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Why Testing and Accountability Matter in K–12 Education


Published April 13, 2021

The challenges imposed on schools by the COVID-19 pandemic have left parents and educators without essential information about how students are doing and which schools need urgent attention. Improvements to data collection, including adopting new metrics to track progress and improving reporting standards, are imperative to recovering the education “data hole.” Better transparency, greater accountability, and resumed testing will play key roles in recovering from the shutdowns spurred by the pandemic.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What challenges have schools faced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
  2. Why is transparency a key factor in school accountability?

Additional Resources:

  • Read “School Accountability—Past, Present, and Future,” by Chester E. Finn, Jr., via the Hoover Education Success Initiative. Available here.
  • Read “Eight Recommendations for the Biden Administration,” by Chester E. Finn, Jr., via Education Next. Available here.
  • Listen to “The Future of Results-Based Accountability in Education,” with Chester E. Finn, Jr., via The Education Exchange podcast. Available here.
View Transcript

Battered by COVID-19, school closures and the testing hiatus have created an education “data hole,” leaving parents and educators without essential information about how students are doing, who is falling behind, and which schools need urgent attention.

That needs fixing, starting with the Biden administration’s handling of school accountability under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). In time, that law also needs revision.

First, policy makers must choose metrics and criteria that track progress within the school’s control and in ways that cannot be manipulated.

Not all metrics are as objective as they seem. Graduation rates, for example, may be fudged if schools promote students who haven’t met all their requirements.

Other metrics, like attendance rates, are important to track because less instruction time means less learning.

Second, reporting standards must improve. Transparency is key. State grading systems for schools should be easily grasped by parents and be set up to easily compare schools across the district and state—and beyond.

Results should show both both proficiency and growth. Monitoring achievement growth encourages teachers to pay attention to all students, no matter their current level of performance..

Improvements to transparency on achievement paired with greater accountability will help schools recover from the challenges imposed by the pandemic.. But we also need those tests to resume—beginning in 2021!