At the Show-Me Institute’s Policy Breakfast last week, Normandy School District Superintendent Ty McNichols stated that his district would begin playing “The MSIP game.” For a great overview of what this entails, check out Dale Singer’s latest article. MSIP stands for the Missouri School Improvement Program. It is the system the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) uses to accredit public schools. Though they don’t say it explicitly, McNichols’ comment and Singer’s article display the major problem with MSIP and other forms of test-based accountability — they distort the actions of teachers and school leaders.
Rather than focus on the pressing needs of their students, test-based accountability systems encourage school officials to focus on ways to improve their score on the evaluation. Just after No Child Left Behind passed, education scholar Dan Goldhaber predicted that the new accountability system would encourage “a focus on those students who are just below the benchmark. Students far below the benchmark may be seen as ‘lost causes,’ and therefore not a good place to focus efforts.” Goldhaber was right. In many districts, including the one where my wife taught, much of the focus was on these “bubble kids.”
MSIP 5, the latest edition, attempts to address this and includes points for growth, not just achievement. Still, the system is subject to the same type of gaming. There is no doubt every district in the state will soon be playing the “MSIP game.”
So what is the alternative? Should we not have accountability? We should absolutely have accountability. However, the best system of accountability does not come from bureaucrats in the state capitol; it comes from parents demanding excellence from their child’s school.
Critics of school choice often lament that “private schools aren’t held accountable” because they don’t take state tests. What they don’t realize is that choice, not tests, are the best form of school accountability. State evaluation systems encourage schools to focus on the evaluation; choice encourages schools to focus on the student. Unfortunately, few families have school choice.