Finding Accountability’s Sweet Spot

portrait of Ruth Wattenberg
Ruth Wattenberg

Our children attended Janney, Deal, and Wilson. When our son started, DC schools had no accountability—no clear standards for what should be learned, no assessments to measure progress, no interventions when students failed to progress. The result: no sense of urgency–and too many kids learning too little.

But now, many of our students are tested five or more times a year with various standardized tests, including pre-tests, interim tests, practice tests, test-prep, accountability tests.

Between these extremes, there has to be a sweet spot!: where the standards are high, the curriculum is broad and rich, and tests play an important, but not dominant, role.

We need smart tests, not just lots of tests. Some tests  are terrifically important.  They tell us how  kids are progressing, how schools are doing, which kids need help, and what help they need.  But some tests aren’t useful. They just take time from teaching and learning.  And. because most of the tests–and the accountability that is tied to them–are only in language arts and math, there is pressure to steal time from the untested and less-tested subjects.

That’s not right.  Our kids need a broad, rich curriculum in history-social studies, science, and the arts.  These subjects are important in their own right.  Plus, the reading material that kids need to comprehend in middle- and high-school, as well as in college and in life, depends on the background knowledge that is being squeezed out.

This year, DC introduces new standards and new tests in English/language arts and math. It’s the right time to right-size and right-shape our testing and curriculum. As the new DC State School Board member from Ward 3, I plan to make this issue one of my priorities!

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