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Transforming Educational Accountability:

Creating Culturally Responsive Portfolio Assessments

James Capps



Transforming Educational Accountability:

Creating Culturally Responsive Portfolio Assessments

There is a common culture emerging amongst educators that blames educational

accountability for creating boundaries to student learning. There is no doubt that our current

accountability system, like our schools themselves, is rooted in racism and heterosexism. As

appalling as this may be, before state accountability testing, racism and heterosexism still existed

in our schools, yet no one was being held accountable for not educating students affected by

these biases. While this may not be true for all, or even most, educators, I believe much of the

pushback on educational accountability comes from educators who resent being held accountable

for educating students who they would otherwise not care to serve.

That being said, I believe the answer is not to throw out accountability but rather reassess

the way that we measure student learning. Creating school or district-specific portfolio

assessments would allow schools to much more effectively measure student learning and teacher

effectiveness. This would not only hold schools accountable for educating students, but also

hold districts and states accountable for serving our students in the most equitable way.

To make educational accountability equitable for all or our students I believe our

educational system needs to remember that our first priority is serving students, engage students

rather than measure them, and involve stakeholders in the creation of accountability exams. I

suggest that the most effective way to establish equitable educational accountability is to create

portfolio assessments that vary from school to school or district to district.

Student First Practices

Teachers and administrators spend a great deal of time discussing educational

accountability, classroom practices, and test scores. This is because the district level focus in on

student test scores. I believe equitable educational accountability must start by readdressing our

number one priority-- our students.

I believe the first step in repositioning students at the center of or educational efforts is

considering what the students need in order to obtain a quality education. This requires that we

limit the inequities that high-stakes testing creates in our schools. As Neill states, The inequities

are compounded when districts gut art, music classes, and sports for the rote memorization,

constant quizzing, and testing the limit time for creative and analytical thinking (Neill, 2012, p.

23). This becomes a cycle that continually underserves minority and lower status students

because their schools lose funding for underperforming on accountability tests. Because of the

loss of funding, school cut programs such as these that dont appear to positively impact student

test scores, but actually promote skills that all of our students need to become lifelong learners.

By refocusing our efforts, and placing students at the center of decision making, we can

combat these inequities. Additionally, this involves a restructuring of what accountability looks

like. As Neill also suggests, A truly healthy educational system will prioritize high-quality

classroom instruction and use school-based assessment information to monitor classroom,

school, and district progress (2012, p. 21). This would require districts and states to reconsider

the current processes used to assess schools. Currently, accountability tests rely mostly on

multiple choice options because they are easier to score. However, by putting our students first

we may find that the additional time and cost that a new assessment format would require would

be worth it if we can end the use of assessments as an obstacle for student achievement.

Teachers and administrators could still be evaluated like our current system, but student

testing could take a formative approach by allowing students to show their knowledge and

academic growth through a portfolio or performance based approaches.


However, the testing format, or instrument, is not the only aspect that needs to be

revisited to create equitable educational accountability.

Engagement Students
Raymond Padilla discusses the difference between cultures of engagement and cultures of

measurement in student accountability testing. As he describes, the culture of measurement

created by current accountability systems ranks some students above others and then allocates

funds and resources to schools whose students are more worthy (Padilla, 2005). If our goal is

to enrich and educate all of our students, we cannot do so by continuing to operate within a

system that pits students against each other by ranking them and perpetuates the education gap.

Individualized portfolio-style accountability assessments would allow schools to

transform testing from an oppressive system into one that fosters learning by making the

assessment a formative process.

Involving Stakeholders in the Creation of Accountability Exams

The creation of these portfolio-style assessment should consider the opinions and

concerns of all stakeholders involved in student learning. Currently, standards are developed

either nationally or at the state level. Those standards are then used by for-profit companies to

create high-stakes tests that are administered to our students. The organizations that create these

tests have no vested interest in, or knowledge of, the communities or cultures our students come

from. As Frechtling and Mark suggest, At the very least, the evaluator or evaluation team

should be fully aware of and responsive to the participants and stakeholders culture, particularly

as it relates to and influences the program (2010, p. 65). This means that, instead of tests being

imposed on our students by companies that have never met them, or know their culture, equitable

educational accountability could be better established through school-specific tests created by

school districts and stakeholders that meet national standards.

As mentioned earlier, I believe a portfolio-style assessment would be the most equitable.

As stated by Freichtling and Mark, developing a stakeholder groups to give insight into how

students should be assessed would be the most equitable option. They also state that, It is

important to develop a stakeholder group representative of the populations the project serves,

assuring that individuals from all sectors have the chance for input (2010, p. 65). This would

give parents and community members that are representative of the school's racial and

socioeconomic makeup a say in how students are assessed.

The most glaring example that I can think of is that students currently have to take

accountability tests in English only. This makes sense for English assessments, but forcing

English language learners to take Math and Social Studies assessments in English not only

marginalizes bilingual students, but also fails to provide accurate data of students growth and

learning in those content areas. If students were allowed to take those assessments in their native

language, then school accountability data could be far more accurate.

Not only could school or district-specific accountability tests help solve clearly defined

issues such as the above-mentioned, but they could also help in creating assessments that engage

students in learning rather than creating a culture of measurement.

Currently our school accountability system takes the form of standardized assessments,

created by for-profit companies that rank students abilities and then reward schools with higher-

performing students. If we want to equitably assess and evaluate student learning, we must use

national standards to create portfolio-style assessments that allow students to show the true

breadth of their knowledge and abilities. Not only does this position students first, over profit

gained from standardized assessments, but it also creates a culture of engagement that makes

accountability testing formative and educational for students rather than the current high-stress

ranking system.

Furthermore, for these assessments to be representative of school culture, schools should

develop stakeholder teams that guide the process and assure that tests are in the student's best


While this form of assessment may not be as lucrative as our current system, and is more

time consuming to collect data, these additional obstacles would allow us to best serve our

students and create school accountability that promotes effective classroom strategies.

Percent of Read/Viewed of Readings and Videos

Readings: 100%

Videos: 100%

Frechtling, J. A., & Mark, M. M. (2010). A guide to conducting culturally responsive
evaluations. The 2010 user-friendly handbook of project evaluation. Arlington, VA:
National Science Foundation, Directorate for Education and Human Resources, Division
of Research and Learning in Formal and Informal Settings. 63-73.

Neill, M. (2012). A child is not a test score. Pencils down: Rethinking high-stakes testing and
accountability in public schools, 21-30.

Padilla, R. V. (2005). High-stakes testing and educational accountability as social constructions

across cultures. Leaving children behind: How Texas-style accountability fails Latino
youth, 249-262.