Viewpoint: School leaders need more help, and not red tape, to transform education

As schools began to feel the pressure of accountability, specifically in two areas of the curriculum, some began to narrow the curriculum to focus on the areas to be tested and began to teach to the test. Episodes of cheating became more prevalent, and some states began to game the system by lowering the cut points on the state tests to better meet the NCLB requirements for AYP. This is the phenomenon that Education Secretary Arne Duncan referred to when he accused the educational system of lying to parents and students relative to their true achievements. Evidence of this is apparent in the comparison of state performance on their own tests versus their performance on the National Assessment for Educational Progress, otherwise known as the “nation’s report card.”

The reauthorized ESEA must maintain the high level of accountability that NCLB introduced but must replace the metrics with a more comprehensive, valid, and reliable system of evaluating student performance. That can begin by separating the assessment that is done for purposes of accountability from the necessary assessment that must be done on a regular basis to inform instruction. Growth measures that assess the performance of the same student from year to year should be used. Assessment tools that will be valid and reliable for use with special-needs students and English language learners should be developed. There should be a shift from emphasizing punishment in accountability to building capacity and rewarding success.

We believe that the lowest-performing schools in each state should be targeted for extra assistance and funding, but we support a broad range of turnaround models that include flexibility and avoid a one-size-fits-all approach.

We believe that the accountability for the effectiveness of teachers and administrators is a responsibility of state government and local school districts, and not the federal government.

There is much more to our legislative agenda, and I refer those interested to our web site at Although I have focused here mostly on areas of disagreement with the status quo, there are many changes that have been put forth by the Department of Education that we support, such as plans to consolidate funding sources to provide schools systems with greater flexibility, a reward structure for school systems meeting their goals, and a more comprehensive system of accountability emphasizing growth measures.

The current administration has been very approachable and has consistently demonstrated its willingness to engage our members in constructive dialogue. This is very encouraging and conveys a sense that it isn’t afraid to involve “traditional” reformers in the process of transforming our schools.

Daniel A. Domenech is executive director of the American Association of School Administrators.

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