Accountability vs. Equity: Are They at Odds?
As educators, we labor under the rigor of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in our attempts to improve accountability through public test scores and district school-wide achievement metrics. Principals are being charged with holding teachers accountable for student outcomes and using both formative and summative assessment data to drive daily classroom instruction. In short, there is a Herculean effort being made to demystify teaching and learning and hold educators responsible for student achievement through transparency of data and public entry to all varying types of student information.
As special educators, we are held to the same standards as our general education colleagues, and expectations for student growth are congruent. However, there are elements of “soft data” that are not as publicly proclaimed or published that we know impact student outcomes as strongly as test scores. That “soft data” has to do with equity of access and resources to students with learning challenges. Exactly what types of equity am I alluding to? Here are a few examples:
• Equitable use of school building facilities such as libraries, gyms, cafeterias, pools, and computer rooms.
• Classes located along a corridor with appropriate grade-level peers instead of in a “special education wing.”
• Breakfast and lunch times at reasonable hours rather than a 10:45 a.m. lunch after an 8:45 a.m. breakfast.
• Inclusion in school-wide assemblies, fails, dance festivals, proms, and graduations.
• Access to extended-day academic intervention programs and intramurals even if they require after-hours bussing.
• Integration in public areas such as cafeterias, staircases and restrooms.
• Opportunities for integration, mainstreaming and/or full inclusion with general education peers.
In short, special needs students in integrated buildings are being held to the same academic expectations as their general education peers without the same supports from the school’s infrastructure. How then can we anticipate positive outcomes in students who grapple daily with rejection, disparate treatment and loss of self-esteem? It is high time to bring all the inequities to light, make all children equal in their rights of access, and have breaches in equity made as public as student test scores. Until these egregious improprieties in school communities are rectified and structures are put in place to ensure no future recurrences, we can never truly enact NCLB in our schools; we will only perpetuate lip service. #
Dr. Bonnie Brown is the superintendent of District 75 in New York City.