Both my principal and my superintendent addressed standardized testing and, to be clear, it was very nice to hear from both of them that they believe we are testing too much, and that they are both working in the political arena to try to convince the state to reduce the amount of required testing. But I found it interesting that they both repeated almost exactly several sentences that I hear many folks in education use: "I'm not against accountability. I think accountability is important. We need to be held accountable to make sure we're doing our jobs."
Every time I hear phrases like those I find myself thinking of a line from The Princess Bride,
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.Google gives me this definition, which I guess is as good as any. (I also find the use-over-time graph very interesting.)
So accountability is being responsible for and justifying our actions or decisions. In our current environment, and the way that most folks in the education discussion seem to use it, that means using test scores to "justify" that what we're doing with our students is "working." Therefore we need some amount of standardized testing to prove that we're being successful, to hold us accountable. That's wrong.
The problem isn't so much with their understanding of the word accountable, it's with their assumptions of who we are accountable to and what we are accountable for. We are not accountable to the test, or to the state, or even to the curriculum - we are (or at least should be) accountable to our students. We are (or should be) responsible for our actions and decisions in relation to our students' wants and needs - what they care about, and test scores don't measure that. Even for folks who believe that learning is mastering a fixed body of knowledge and being able to regurgitate that on command, test scores wouldn't hold us "accountable." Test scores don't measure the quality of our actions and decisions while interacting with our students. And, if you don't believe that mastering a fixed body of knowledge and regurgitating it on command is "learning," then using test scores for "accountability" is even more ludicrous.
Test scores don't hold me accountable as a teacher; they don't make sure I'm "doing my job". Standing up in front of (or beside) students each and every day, meeting their needs and helping them find out what they care about, and then helping them learn more about that, that holds me accountable. As long as educators continue to agree and reinforce that test scores are the way to keep us accountable, we're never going to make any progress. It's inconceivable.