Standards, Accountability, and School Reform: Perils and Pitfalls
by Kennon M. Sheldon & Bruce J. Biddle — 1998
This article examines current debates about educational standards, accountability systems, and school reform from the perspective of Deci and Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory. Evidence from this twenty-five year tradition of research reveals various perils associated with rigid standards, narrow accountability, and tangible sanctions that can debase the motivations and performances of teachers and students. Teachers faced with reforms that stress such practices may become controlling, unresponsive to individual students, and alienated. Test- and sanction-focused students may lose intrinsic interest in subject matter, learn at only a superficial level, and fail to develop a desire for future learning. Thus, although reforms that stress standards, accountability, and sanctions may (or may not) succeed in raising test scores, they are also likely to sabotage a key goal of education-creating a flexible population of life-long learners who can adjust to the changing needs of society and the workplace. Alternative strategies for reform are suggested that place greater stress on trust, teacher professionalism, and responsive education for students.
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