Let’s agree on one point: School accountability is important. Parents must know how their schools are performing. Taxpayers must know how schools – traditional, charter and voucher-supported schools – are using state funds to serve students. Communities must know how their schools compare to schools elsewhere.
In fact, there is no disagreement on that point. So-called school reformers have been championing accountability for years. Lawmakers have embraced it. Teachers have come to accept it and, yes – state schools chief Glenda Ritz supports it, provided the system is fair, equitable and transparent.
The state superintendent’s push to “pause” accountability comes down to that issue. She argues schools should get a break if their letter grades fall because the state’s standardized test, ISTEP+, was changed to match tougher academic standards. Imagine moving the free-throw line in a basketball game and requiring players to use a heavier ball – does a team’s declining free-throw percentage offer a fair comparison to last season’s stats? Of course not.
The decision to pause accountability has not been an issue anywhere else. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan pushed states to adopt tougher standards, so the federal government offered them a delay under waivers from No Child Left Behind requirements, recognizing that tests aligned with the Common Core State Standards would result in falling scores. Indiana opted out of Common Core, of course, but the new tests aligned to its similar college and career-ready standards had the same effect.
Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia accepted the federal government’s offer to pause accountability for the 2014-15 school year, according to Education Week’s Alyson Klein, with “very little chatter about it ... it seems almost universally accepted as something the department and states simply had to do in the wake of all the changes ushered in by the waivers and common-core standards.”
The uproar in Indiana, including charges that Ritz is trying to use a loophole in federal law to dodge accountability, comes back to the highly politicized climate in Indiana education circles. The state superintendent’s short-lived bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination didn’t help.
Indiana should accept a pause this year. But before the debate grows more contentious, Ritz and Gov. Mike Pence should come together to reaffirm support for school accountability. They might disagree on what is fair, equitable and transparent, but that debate must happen without getting in the way of student achievement.