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Four Points to Know About School Accountability

November 21, 2014 by George W. Bush Presidential Center

There’s certainly pushback against using annual state tests to determine student performance. But, in case you missed it, these recent pieces explain the importance of state tests as well as school accountability.

Too much time testing? Not really

Contrary to popular opinion, Denver Post columnist Alicia Caldwell explains in this essay, annual state tests are not taking up too much time. Caldwell’s walkaway line is this:

“The cold, hard facts are that state-required standing testing in first through 12th grades takes 1.4 percent of a kid’s annual school time.”

Caldwell also addresses student walkouts in Boulder and some suburban Denver schools over tests:

“They're being asked to spend a maximum of 0.6 percent of their school year on social studies and science assessments. Those numbers were compiled by the state Department of Education.”

This column echoes what the Bush Institute’s Mark Dynarski wrote this week:

 “The arguments we hear against annual standardized exams typically revolve around students being tested too much and testing harming education. But a look at evidence suggests something different: Annual state tests do not use much time. That’s especially true when you distinguish them from benchmark tests, which districts often give on their own to periodically assess student performance.”

Caldwell has an apt conclusion: “Let’s have an honest conversation about what is going on with concern over testing and talk about reasonable solutions.”

Survey Says

A National Bureau of Economic Research paper concludes that leadership and management changes required for failing schools under the No Child Left Behind Act have a positive impact. The report by Jacob Vigdor and Thomas Anh looks at data about school’s meeting Adequate Yearly Progress goals. They found that changes in leadership make a difference.

In a 2013 paper for the American Enterprise Institute the researchers looked at whether standardized tests in grades three-thru-eight have been worth the effort. They concluded that:

“Evidence indicates that school accountability systems in general, and NCLB in particular, have beneficial systemic effects on standardized test scores.”

Vigdor and Anh detail ways that accountability systems can be refined. Indeed, complex organisms like that always need refining. But they can lead to improvements.

Yes, testing data does help

Todd Grindal and Beth Boulay, also education researchers, wrote recently on the Huffington Post how state tests provide a flow of data that help schools improve their practices. Here’s his conclusion:

"Critics argue that these exams represent a waste of instructional time at best, and at worst an insidious effort to narrow the curriculum, destabilize the teaching profession, and privatize public education. Lost in this frenzy of concern is recognition of how the information collected through these tests contributes to our understanding of the effectiveness of educational practices and programs."

Standardized tests create a level playing field

Patricia Levesque, CEO of Excellence in Education and a Florida parent, took a deeper look at testing on her organization’s blog. Among other points, she hit on the important equity aspect of standardized testing.

Here’s how Levesque put it:

“Schools have the freedom to teach however they think is best. But standardized tests ensure schools teach all children to the same high expectations. Without them, history shows some schools set lower expectations for some students. And we shouldn’t have a system that discriminates.”

That point often gets lost in the debates over school accountability. Don’t we want high expectations for all students? Didn't we fight a civil rights battle over this issue?


George W. Bush Presidential Center



As the 13th presidential library, the Bush Library and Museum promotes an understanding of the American presidency, examines the specific time in history during which President Bush served, and provides access to official records and artifacts from the Bush Administration.



The Bush Institute is an action-oriented, nonpartisan policy organization that cultivates leaders, fosters policies to solve today’s most pressing challenges, and takes action to save and change lives. Our work is inspired by the principles that guide President and Mrs. Bush in public life.

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