South Carolina’s Education Accountability Act (EAA) and the national No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law are examples of standards-based accountability. Lawmakers want to ensure that schools are focused on outcomes, or individual student achievement, so they set benchmarks for performance. The schools measure student performance against these benchmarks, and inform parents and policymakers on the results.
The philosophy behind standards-based reform is that public and uniform performance targets are the best way to foster good instruction. Good instruction is of course the real key to student learning. While some parents and teachers have voiced frustration with the specific tests or funding mechanisms associated with NCLB and EAA, all agree that the basic emphasis on absolute performance and outcomes is sound.
But now, some education administrators and Columbia politicians want to start stripping the accountability. Their plan is subtle: they want to provide parents with information on a student or school’s “growth” (once called “improvement”) rather than just an absolute grade. This movement is being spearhead by two men: Jim Rex and Bob Walker.
Rex wants to wants to use differential accountability for his low-performing schools so that he can avoid the federal support and oversight mechanisms designed to transform failing schools.
Rex’s partner Bob Walker is sponsoring a bill (a watered down version of his initial proposal) that will try to confuse parents by using “growth” ratings on school report cards. This re-worked EAA will also allow failing schools to receive Palmetto Gold and Silver Awards for “growth” and “improvement” even if they don’t meet state or federal performance standards.
The inclusion of “growth” ratings on accountability report cards is disingenuous, and leads to lowered expectations. South Carolina’s public schools have the nation’s lowest graduation rate and the second lowest SAT scores. South Carolina’s economic competitiveness is a function of the total quality of our workers and companies, not merely their relative “growth.”
Weakening our standards and reporting practices will not resolve the problems in South Carolina’s public schools. Providing all parents with accurate information and real options (including access to independent and private schools) will.