Accountable To Whom?

Andrew* never passed a state assessment from grades three through seven.  During eighth grade, we made seemingly logical changes to help him pass his exams and promote to high school.  We eliminated electives to provide additional support classes.  During advisory time, we grouped him with students needing intervention while others enjoyed enrichment activities.  His teachers cared for him and Andrew was eager to please.

In May, his teachers celebrated the news Andrew passed all four assessments.  His story became a testament to student and teacher determination at our school.

Four years later, I was Andrew’s high school Principal.  He struggled to pass classes and displayed apathy towards school.  The idea of making money overruled staying for tutorials.  Like some disadvantaged teenagers, he was seduced by the gratification provided by tangible status symbols instead of the potential his grades provided.

Unchecked, a fixation on accountability contributes to the post-high school divide in a graduating class.  College bound students were more involved in activities at our school and identify with electives/extra-curricular activities.  Their experience included a more creative curriculum, greater use of technology in classrooms, and advanced elective courses.

In general, economically disadvantaged students do not arrive to school on equal footing with their affluent peers due to factors including home support, educational materials (books) in the home, and even nutrition.  Seeking to improve achievement as defined by accountability standards, I unintentionally starved under-achieving students of even more experiences high-achieving (and typically affluent) students experienced regularly.

School accountability serves an important purpose.  Yet, it is not compelling enough to serve as a compass.  It is a leader’s responsibility to define “true north” in a manner including accountability as part of a bigger picture.

This is the crux of accountability age leadership.  The results of the test shapes school ratings the general public consumes.  One day, four hours, and 60 bubbles determines graduation plans, teaching assignments, principal tenure, and school reputation.

Ignore accountability demands and the school perishes.  Great teaching, unfortunately, is not enough.  School leaders make tough decisions and implement structures to achieve results.  Yet, a sole focus on accountability robs a school and students of experiences that matter.  Coupled with accountability, leaders can help a community define their greatest aspirations for students.

The inaugural work at Lebanon Trail is an example.

Accountability matters because it draws focus to student growth and excellence for each racial and economic background.  Yet it is worth asking:  to whom are we accountable?  I am ultimately accountable for the school’s performance.  However, I am also accountable for Andrew.  Same, but different.

*pseudonym

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