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Educational Equity and Accountability: Paradigms, Policies, and Politics

reviewed by Nicki King - 2004

coverTitle: Educational Equity and Accountability: Paradigms, Policies, and Politics
Author(s): Linda Skrla and James J. Scheurich
Publisher: Routledge/Falmer, New York
ISBN: 0415945062, Pages: 291, Year: 2004
Search for book at Amazon.com

This book continues the debate over the value of high-stakes testing that has become such a large part of the debate over equity and accountability in recent years. It is very significant that the major source of data and discussion in the book are derived from

Texas , the apparent source of much of the experience that supports the Bush administration’s improvement and accountability policies reflected in “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB). NCLB policies require that school districts show continuous improvement in meeting the state standards for achievement for each grade level, as well as in closing the achievement gap between low income and minority students, and White and higher-income students (U.S. Dept. of Education, 2002). Although schools and districts have used testing for many years, the recent application of rewards for improvement in performance (and sanctions for students and schools not improving) has resulted in the “high-stakes” connotation to testing.

The book contains a variety of articles, many of which have previously been published elsewhere, that debate the impact of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS), especially for African American and Latino students. The sections of the book are framed as a series of assertions and rejoinders between researchers who are familiar with the TAAS test data, and policies and school conditions in

Texas . The editors of the book (and their colleagues who participated in a study of four Texas school districts with improving scores for African American and Latino students) believe that high stakes testing programs such as those reflected in the TAAS are useful for monitoring and improving educational equity, while other researchers who have done work in Texas schools or who have analyzed TAAS and NAEP data either do not agree, or do not believe that the Texas data supports their conclusion.

A major part of the book discusses the results of a study of four

Texas school districts that have experienced improvements in student performance as measured by the TAAS. The study team members describe the sample of school districts as having been selected purposively (Skrla, Scheurich, Johnson, and Koshoreck, Chapter 5) while one of the rejoinders calls the sample of school districts “outliers” ( Valencia , Valenzuela, Sloan, and Foley, Chapter 3). The study team members conclude that such testing programs can enhance equity for African American and Latino students, as well as students from economically disadvantaged families, and suggest that the programs are responsible for leveraging improvements in student achievement in the four school districts studied. Their critics, who receive almost equal space in the edited volume, look at statewide results and raise important caveats about the testing program, its outcomes, and its unintended consequences that are not completely addressed by the study team members.

The study team members acknowledge the history of racism and inadequate educational opportunity that has been afforded to African American, Latino, and poor children in the

United States , with specific attention to Texas (Skrla, Scheurich, Johnson, and Koschoreck, Chapter 5). One of the central assertions in support of the role of the TAAS in the four school districts studied is that the attention to the racial and economic disparities in achievement that disaggregated test results provided allowed the school leadership to confront their deficit thinking about the educability of children from minority and low-income families (Skrla and Scheurich, Chapter 9). Since evidence of unequal outcomes and disparate achievement for poor and minority students is ample and should have been available to educators even before the implementation of the TAAS, it is somewhat difficult to believe that these educators only recently became aware of it, or considered themselves accountable for doing something to improve the outcomes for these kids. The two chapters provide numerous quotes from superintendents and principals asserting that the accountability system itself caused a professional conversion that made them believe that all children could learn and that they could find a way to teach them, but these assertions are unconvincing. They are unconvincing, in part, because it is unreasonable to assume that the staff members were not acquainted with the reality of the achievement gap prior to TAAS, and also because the book offers little evidence of the specific practices initiated to make the schools effective.

Even if the conversion experience described by administrators is accurate, the research the authors describe provides little direct explanation of how the new push for accountability also converted the classroom teachers, and more importantly, gave them the skills and strategies to change their teaching practices. The editors and their colleagues suggest that their practices have been heavily influenced by the work of the late Ron Edmonds, who proposed seven correlates of school effectiveness (Edmonds, 1979, California Center for Effective Schools, 2004), but the discussion in the book focuses heavily on only one of Edmonds’ seven correlates, frequent monitoring of student progress, without identifying how other aspects of school improvement were adopted or fostered.

The chapters written by the critics of the premise that the TAAS has provided an accountability system that will promote equity base their concern on several issues. Some of the issues of most concern include:

  1. Questions about the reliability and validity of the scores on the TAAS, given reductions in the passing score (Haney, Chapter 6), the acknowledged cheating scandals (Parker, Chapter 13), and the disputed improvement in NAEP scores, except for 4th grade math ( Valencia , Valenzuela, Sloan, and Foley, Chapter 3; Haney, Chapter 6; Klein, Chapter 7)

  1. Questions about the high 9th grade retention rates and possibly increasing dropout rates for African American and Latino students (Haney, Chapter 6)

  1. Questions about the extent to which the resources committed to the TAAS (instructional time, curricular standardization, and money) might have narrowed the focus of the schools and made them less able to respond to the needs of students as individual learners (McKenzie, Chapter 17)

In summary, if the reader is looking for a definitive answer about the efficacy of high stakes testing, it won’t be found here. There is at least one article that supports almost every argument for, or against, high-stakes testing as the principal tool for accountability. However, the book is potentially valuable for readers who are interested in the arguments for and against high stakes testing. The book provides a balanced look at the very complex and difficult issues surrounding accountability, equity, and high stakes testing. The editors have made no effort to “stack the deck” of arguments to support the TAAS. Since the volume doesn’t leave things “all tied up” with a powerfully-presented conclusion, it forces the reader to do the hard work of deciding for him- or herself whether high stakes testing systems such as the TAAS should be used as the principal means of delivering educational accountability, and whether these systems, now used in a growing number of states, provide more value than harm for students, educators, and policymakers.


California Center for Effective Schools (2004). Available at http://effectiveschools.education.ucsb.edu/mission.html

Edmonds , Ron (1979). "Effective schools for the urban poor" Educational Leadership, 37(1): 15-24

U.S. Department of Education (2002). Testing for results. Available at http://www.ed.gov/nclb/accountability/ayp/testingforresults.html

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 106 Number 12, 2004, p. 2335-2338
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11346, Date Accessed: 10/20/2021 9:14:19 PM

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About the Author
  • Nicki King
    University of California-Davis
    E-mail Author
    NICKI KING is a Youth and Family Development Specialist in the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at the University of California, Davis. Her areas of research include equity issues in education and post high school planning and preparation for low income students and students of color. Her current work examines the impact of the Californiia High School Exit Examination on African American and Latino students, and she recently completed an evaluation of the efficacy of a tutoring program designed to help students pass the exam. That report, "Woodland High School's CSLC Peer Tutoring Program", is available from the author.
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