At a recent Pennsylvania House Education Committee hearing, lawmakers questioned whether a proposed voucher program would provide “accountability”. Indeed, they want to be sure that these schools have the same level of “accountability” as public schools—i.e., students are forced to take standardized tests.
Its bears pointing out a few of the facts about this measure of “accountability”:
- A report produced by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (but ignored for almost two years), revealed irregularities in PSSA test results at a number of schools—namely that a large number of answers were erased and changed to the correct answer. That is, it appears many schools may be cheating on standardized tests.
- Whether or not schools are cheating on the PSSA, the test remains sub-standard, inflating measures of proficiency. We pointed out in 2008 how the PSSA is less rigorous than the National Assessment of Educational Progress, but the latest evidence indicates that Pennsylvania’s standards are getting weaker relative to other states.
- Even with this weak standard, schools are failing. Consider schools like University City High School in Philadelphia—where only 4 percent of 11th grade students are proficient in math—or Wilkinsburg High School in Allegheny County, where more than 80 percent of students aren’t proficient in either reading or math. What happens when these schools fail to educate students? Nothing. The school gets sternly warned, but then receives increased funding—leaving students trapped in failing schools because of their Zip Code.
This is not accountability. Whether or not private schools are forced to have students take weak tests is not the question. Rather, the question is: When will parents get the right to choose schools that are accountable to them?