Administrators also feel pressure when accountability systems are adopted. They report that they must spend additional hours defending their schools' competitive standing with parents, teachers, and the media--hours that they once spent more productively. In response to these worries and pressures, educators also begin to adjust the focus of their efforts. Their curricula and teaching efforts become more standardized and superficial. Moreover, since they want their schools to look well on competitive tests, they tend to restrict instruction to the topics assessed by those tests. A sad example of how this process works was recently described by sociologists Jere Gilles, Simon Geletta, and Cortney Daniels. In 1993 the State of Missouri created an accountability program designed around a new assessment instrument, the Missouri Mastery Achievement Test. This test was tied to a new curriculum that had been developed by the state's department of education, and all schools were required to administer it so that it could be used as a "report card"--letting the public know how well their own schools were doing compared with others in the state. As Gilles and his colleagues describe the outcome, results of this. Quality programs and textbooks were scrapped in order to replace them with materials that directly taught the test, and an unholy competition emerged between districts and communities over test scores. In some districts a week or more of instructional time each year was devoted to this test....
scrapped in order to replace them with materials that directly taught the test, and an unholy competition emerged between districts and communities over test scores. In some districts a week or more of instructional time each year was devoted to [preparing for] this test (Gabbard 67).
Moreover, this was not an isolated incident. As testing specialist George Madaus has suggested, when you have high-stakes tests, the tests eventually become the curriculum. It happened with the Regents exams in New York. Items that are not emphasized in the testare not emphasized in school. That's a fundamental lesson that cuts across countries and across time. Teaching has not changed that much; it's an art form. Given basically the same set of circumstances, teachers will behave in much the same way. . . . But if you go to Europe, to the British Isles, or to Australia and look at comparable literature, [worries about] the external achievement exams . . . appear often. And they write about cramming, about how they prepared for the exams. They write about how, after taking the exams, they purged their minds of the answers that they had learned (Gabbard 59).
Somehow, we doubt that most Americans are interested in promoting school learning that is narrow, test-specific, standardized superficial, and easily forgotten--but that is exactly what accountability programs promote. It also takes a great deal of time and money to conduct accountability programs. According to a leading scholar, Arthur Wirth, citing the National Commission on Testing and Public Policy, mandatory testing in America now "consumes annually some 20 million school days and the equivalent of $700 and $900 million in direct and indirect expenditures." What this means, of course, is that schools regularly shortchange