Gov. Jerry Brown was right to veto SB547, a bill that would have distracted Californians from the test results of students and the corresponding Academic Performance Index of the states' schools.

Based upon each school's student test scores, the API informs parents how well schools are performing within the state and relative to schools with similar demographics.

The proposed multiple accountability measure would have added other evaluative factors to the API test scores, such as how well schools are preparing students for college and a school's dropout rates.

The law, championed by many of the states' newspapers ("Mercury News editorial: SB 547 would significantly improve California's school accountability system," http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_18749990), would have diluted school accountability, replacing objective evidence of student achievement with vague subjective judgments about college preparation and, in the elementary grades, measurements of a school's creativity.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with schools providing additional evidence to parents as to what the schools are doing, but those reports should be separate from a school's API.

The API should not metastasize into an amorphous number that will cloud the student testing picture.


Advertisement

If our tests didn't give us the information we needed to judge how well our students are learning, then we would be justified in expanding accountability measures. But that isn't what's happening. The sad fact is that our kids are not doing well on the tests and schools deflect responsibility by blaming the tests.

The anti-testing folks throw out language such as "drill and kill" and "teaching to the test," to blunt efforts to make public schools accountable. In fact, "drilling" is nothing more than practicing. Drilling is about instilling and reinforcing important information.

As to teachers "teaching to the test," that's what they should be doing. Students are in class to learn.

Presumably, they should know certain discrete things when they finish a class lesson, an academic year and eventually graduate. The best way to facilitate that is for students and teachers to have clear expectations, goals and measurements. The best way to check whether students are meeting the goals is to test them.

It's convenient to think students will learn without being "pushed" by tests. It's also wrong. Most of us get things done when we know we have to get things done. Tests are both a means of prodding us to work and the best way to check how well we have done our work.

While Gov. Brown made the right decision regarding SB547, he did it for the wrong reasons. In his remarks, the governor expressed his disdain for tests and data. He suggested we need a more holistic approach to assessment that would take account of students' "love of learning," for example. Give educators divining rods and magic sorting hats and they can apparently evaluate students without tests.

Californians should reject those vague evaluation schemes and continue to insist that schools be measured with the easy-to-understand objective API.

Patrick Mattimore taught at public and parochial high schools in the Bay Area for 13 years and now teaches American law courses at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China.