Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Public School [and Student] Accountabilty Act

Old equity rears its head again. There is a level-headed argument in a California judge's ruling in a case affecting whether or not 10 percent of the 12th graders in the state will graduate. The Mercury News reports that because of a ruling from Judge Robert B. Freedman, California seniors may not be barred from graduating even if they fail to pass the state exit exam. The exam has existed for six years, but this is the first year the test is a true exit exam is a barrier test.

In response to the ruling, Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell issued a statement calling the exam a cornerstone of California's school accountability system. O'Connell said he would rebuff any ruling with an appeal.

Policy makers must consider why barrier tests exist in the first place. If California' s exit exam is truly a cornerstone of California's school accountability system like the Superintendent says it is, then perhaps the Public School Accountability Act (PSAA) should be renamed the Public School Student Accountability Act. Policy makers will have to be careful here. Judge Freedman has basically ruled on this nuanced, but significant difference--school versus student accountability. Who is PSAA holding accountable? The schools or the kids? Clearly both types of accountability are at work, but it seems student accountability only comes into the pitcure significantly at the end of school with this exit exam.

Not insignificant, most parents understand that at the end of the day it is their kids who are held responsible, especially when their children could be barred from receiving the ultimate educational prize: the diploma. After all it is not difficult to understand that test scores are a mark of individual achievement. Ultimately the basis of accountability rests on the test and the test taker. Most, if not all of the rhetoric we hear about accountability in general places the burden squarely with the teachers and the schools. Viewed this way the exit exam is a whopper, a sucker punch that shows up at the end, the most important part, symbolic of all a student's and a school's cumulative effort. State and federal elites would do well to be more transparent in their rhetoric or edu-speak. School accountability systems are also student accountability systems. We may have moved a long way from holding schools harmless for the progress of their students, but we have not moved as far as some might like or think. The exit exam is a perfect example of this struggle about with whom the buck stops.


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