Testing, Achievement & Accountability


On Thursday, The Times reported that US Education Secretary Arnie Duncan told states they "could delay the use of test results in teacher-performance ratings by another year, an acknowledgment, in effect, of the enormous pressures mounting on the nation’s teachers because of new academic standards and more rigorous standardized testing." I've written frequently on this blog about accountability; our obligation to parents and the broader Brooklyn community to show whether we are using taxpayer dollars effectively.

Like Duncan, we are concerned about how standardized assessments are "sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools.”

At the same time, the school's trustees and I are also mindful that far too many children in Brooklyn are already oxygen-deprived: they're not absorbing the academic content they need to succeed.

The results of this year's state tests of 3rd-8th graders in English and Math were released last week. the good news is that, on average, the percentage of children judged 'proficient' or better rose, across all ethnic groups. The Mayor graciously noted that much of this credit goes to his predecessor.

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But some things did not change. As in past years,  Black students in CSD 13 were less than half as likely to be judged 'proficient' in English as white students. Hispanic children were less and one-third as likely to hit that mark. The math results are equally disheartening.

As I said to one Brooklyn mom, until we wake up every morning asking, "why is this?" we're fooling ourselves that we're solving the problem.


Asking this question is not the same as accusing teachers of malpractice. But at the same time, we cannot absolve ourselves, blaming factors beyond our control. As the Jewish sage, Rabbi Tarfom noted, "It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it."

What's even more troubling is that even at "good" schools this gap persists. I am not posting the data because I don't see how shaming individual schools helps, but the average Black-White achievement gap in seven desirable Brooklyn elementary schools is 37 points in English and 43 in math.

Readers of this blog know that ICS will focus relentlessly on building children's background knowledge as a (but not the only) solution to this challenge. We'll provide our teachers with equally coherent and comprehensive professional development.  And we hope our practices will inform a broader discussion in Brooklyn and beyond about what can be done to improve outcomes for our kids.

But we'll never lose sight of the fact that we have to collect, monitor, and respond to data about your kids to do our job properly.