Kontos to DESE: Suspend Broken School Accountability System

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The state should hit the pause button on its deeply flawed school and district accountability system, AFT MA President Beth Kontos tells state education officials in a May 12 letter. “The current ‘test, rank, label, and punish’ approach to accountability is causing serious and demonstrable harm,” Kontos writes. “Until that harm can be stopped, all accountability measures and DESE interventions should be suspended – not just for 2021-22 but indefinitely.”

The letter was written in response to a proposal by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to give DESE commissioner Jeff Riley the discretion to suspend certain accountability measures in fall 2022 due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic.  However, Commissioner Riley has signaled that he still intends to calculate and report the biased and inaccurate school percentile metric, which ranks schools and districts against each other based largely on MCAS scores. These rankings then become the basis for punitive DESE interventions, such as takeovers and receiverships.

The fact that DESE intends to resume reporting school percentiles and other flawed measures as soon as possible “displays an unwillingness to engage in any kind of serious self-reflection around the impact of harmful and failed policies,” says Kontos, whose letter outlines the many harms caused by the accountability system, such as increased segregation and the erosion of democracy. The letter also catalogues DESE’s track record of failure in communities such as Holyoke, Lawrence, Southbridge, and Springfield.

Kontos applauds DESE for its recent efforts to re-examine policies through a racial equity lens. But she asks: “Why has the accountability system—with its demonstrated racial and socioeconomic bias and clear mismeasurement of school quality—escaped this reckoning? Why does DESE continue to label and punish schools serving students of color based on biased, inaccurate, and discredited measures?”

“It’s time to pause, reflect and reimagine school-accountability policy,” Kontos concludes. “We urge you to make that a top priority, and we look forward to being part of that work.”

Read the complete letter here.