School Reform and Accountability:
Some Implications and Issues for Democracy and Fair Play1

(Published in "Democracy & Education" Volume 14, No. 4, 2003, p. 81)

Randy L. Hoover, Ph. D.
Youngstown State University

Kathy L. Shook, M. S. in Ed, L.P.C.
Youngstown State University

     Today, the conservative political agendas of school reform and accountability have changed the very essence of public schooling. Though vast in its collateral effects, the school reform movement has impacted the central organizing principles of democratic public schooling in significant and disturbing ways. Public schools have, indeed, been reformed or perhaps more appropriately, re-formed. This re-formation of schools has serious implications for democratic practice and ideals in terms of the direct effects of the reliance on high stakes testing policies that arbitrarily categorize students and school report card formats that unfairly characterize the quality of the professional educators serving in the schools.

     The issues created within the school reform policies vis-a-vis principles of democracy and a sense of fairness within democratic ideals paint both the foreground and the background of 21st century school reform. However, the problem is that many of the most critical issues that need to be seen, understood, and addressed by those holding the vision of democratic schooling and democratic policy are counter intuitive to the dominant political ideology enfleshed by the citizenry of America.

     Dialogue and discourse about standardized proficiency testing are laced with slogans that seem to be grounded in common sense and scientific wisdom. Unfortunately, the reality is that the fundamental language and signifiers used in the rhetoric of school reform belie the consummately anti-democratic nature of school reform law and policy.

     The roots of understanding the most salient issues forming the fictions perpetuated by the language and practice of high stakes-based school accountability are found, in part, in a solid base of empirical research both old and new within the field of educational research and within the special field of tests and measurement. Likewise, the fallacies and un-democratic issues inherent in policies of school accountability are also illuminated by reflective common sense and the vision of a free, locally controlled system of public schooling as being inexorably requisite to the well being of a democratic society (Broudy, 1981).

     While our work focuses on the critical issues of school accountability both nationally and in the states, the impetus for our work arises from two sources. First our concern is for those most harshly affected by the arbitrary sanctions and climate of current school reform: The educators and the children they work so passionately to educate. Educators are deskilled and held to arbitrary outcomes that have little or nothing to do with what happens in schools. They are denied professional decision latitude in working with their pupils as they know they can best serve them. Schoolchildren are, likewise, visible victims of sorting by socio economic status (SES) and being classified arbitrarily by high stakes tests that fail to meet recognized, scientific standards of test validity and that violate all learned society guidelines for the appropriate use of such standardized tests.

     Our impetus also comes, in part, from the findings of "Forces and Factors Affecting Ohio Proficiency Test Performance: A Study of 593 Ohio School Districts" (Hoover, 2000). In this empirical study2, findings provide clear evidence that the basis for Ohio’s school accountability model is completely invalid because the Ohio Proficiency Tests are shown to correlate with SES to such a high degree as to virtually mask any and all actual academic achievement claimed to be measured by these tests3. For the purposes of this discussion, these findings have significant implications for addressing the integrity and fairness of the notion of accountability and what it does or does not signify to the stakeholders4.

     Preeminent to any and all discussion of school accountability whether the unit of analysis is the student, the teachers, the building, or the school district is the operational definition of the term "accountability." The implicit, intuitive sense of the term signifies the holding of someone responsible or answerable for some activity or decision.

     What is lost in the use of the word "accountability" as a slogan applied to school reform is the question of what the activity is that someone is being held accountable for and the question of how that activity will be assessed so as to authentically hold someone accountable. To hold someone answerable or accountable happens regardless of how valid or fair it is to do so. In terms of democratic principles, there is neither due process nor equal protection under the law for those most directly affected by school reform pseudo accountability.

     For example, it is one thing to hold the local weather reporters accountable for the accuracy of the forecast but something entirely different to hold them accountable for the weather itself. While we might wish to hold them accountable for the weather, it would be holding them accountable (answerable) for something over which they clearly have no control.

Thus in the first case we have an instance of what could be seen as authentic or bona fide accountability because the weather reporters have free, professional decision latitude over what they report and predict; they are responsible for their professional actions. In the second case, holding them accountable for the weather itself is pseudo accountability because they do not have decision latitude over what kind of weather occurs.

     Today, the terms "responsibility," "ability," "accountability," and "answerability" are used interchangeably in terms of meaning and context when issues of school reform are discussed. Indeed, when asked if we are for or against teacher accountability, responding any way other than in the affirmative is considered irresponsible and stupid. Indeed, we know of no one within the education profession who is opposed to authentic school accountability.

     We have long seen that accountability language is used in such a way that there seems to be an assumption that teachers have no professional integrity unless an outside entity is playing watchdog. The use of the reform language, whether in the rhetoric of politicians or in the language of state reports on schools and testing, breeds mistrust of teachers and administrators. The sloganizing rhetoric of the reform movement replaces democratic reason with ideological emotion that clouds and distorts the actual quality of America’s schools, educators, and pupils. The language of neo-conservative school reform is a lesson in ideology and propaganda, not a lesson in democratic ideals.

     The problem for advocating fair play in a democratic society is that the outcome measures used to determine school accountability have been shown to be invalid assessment measures. For example, we know that in Ohio the high stakes tests used as accountability assessments for schools are extremely sensitive to SES as the lived experiences of the children tested. The Ohio Proficiency Test, as with virtually all high stakes proficiency testing across the United States, has been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt to be invalid in assessing academic achievement. The tests are assessment indicators of the economic conditions shaping the lives of the students; they are not valid indicators of the actual impact local educators are having on those students.

     Thus, the term accountability is applied in-authentically within the context of school reform when the assessment of that accountability is of forces and factors not within the control or professional decision latitude of those being held accountability. All stakeholders assume that test scores are indicative of the impact educators are having on their students; they are not and are far from any measure of the impact the activities of teaching and schooling. In the case of the neo-conservative school reform movement, we are holding the weather reporters accountable for the weather, not the impact of their performance reporting and forecasting.

     It is not mere coincidence that the lowest performing schools according to the Ohio School Report Card data are those with the highest levels of poverty. Common sense dictates that we must be suspicious of any form of school accountability in which the highest performing schools are the wealthier districts and the lowest performing schools are those with the most children living in poverty, a phenomenon found across all states using such tests for school accountability.

     Therefore, in the spirit of democratic ideals and practice, we must insist that all aspects of school accountability be for those things and only those things over which the people being held accountable have control and have decision latitude. Economic class and the degree to which out-of-school experiences affect students must not be any part of that for which we hold either educators or students accountable.

     Because some districts start with children of economically advantaged families and communities and others start with children of far less economically advantaged environments5, the actual impact a given staff has on its students is masked by the failure of the proficiency tests and school report cards to validly measure just how much the educators of a district are actually moving the students along the road of learning.

     Virtually all reform accountability models, especially the summary-like school performance report cards that are sent to the press and the public, claim to be definitive measures of the impact a school is having on the academic achievement of the pupils. Public rankings and comparisons of performance both within districts and across districts categorize schools and districts with labels that reward the high performing and stigmatize the lower performing ones. Predictably, the lowest rated schools are those with student populations from the lowest economic locales.

     The problem here for the practice of good democracy is that the effectiveness, the educational impact of the practitioners as represented by the highest and lowest ranked schools is highly misleading. The tests that drive the school report card rankings and categorizations are actually tests of cultural capital and knowledge constructed within the micro culture of the student’s lived experience. As Michael Apple (1993) tells us so eloquently, schooling and standardized testing are not about what knowledge has the most worth, but instead, whose knowledge has the most worth.

     In the case of reform-based accountability, it is the cultural knowledge (language, meanings, and experiences) of the upper economic class that is assessed by the tests that drive the school report card rankings: The tests and the school report cards sort children by economic class and subsequently rank the effectiveness of the educators who school them by assessing the knowledge kids have constructed from their particular lived experiences. There is tremendous disparity between the upper and lower economic classes in terms of the knowledge and language meanings constructed from the widely differing opportunities and experiences encountered during childhood and adolescence.

     Justice and fairness will never be represented in school report card rankings until consideration is given to the degree to which lower SES children are lacking in the specific cultural knowledge (cultural capital) needed for sufficiently high scores on the tests that drive the reports. We know from the study of 593 Ohio school districts on the 1997 proficiency tests (Hoover, 2000) that when we control for SES, a much clearer picture of the actual impact of schools and district emerges.

     One classic example of uncovering the actual impact of a school district is seen in the failure of Ohio’s school report card system in the performance of Youngstown City Schools when SES is factored out. Using the data from the state that determine the school report card rankings, Youngstown City fell in the bottom 5% of the 593 districts studied. However, when controlling for the extreme poverty of the district, Youngstown City falls in the top 9% of highest performing schools. In other words, the educators in Youngstown were having a tremendously significant effect on their students, the exact opposite of what the state was claiming to be the case.

     When any policy is holding educators accountable for impacting their students by using a standardized proficiency test, the only reasonable way to do it with any integrity and validity is to assess where their students are to start with in terms of what the proficiency tests require. Though any accountability report that relies primarily6 on any form of standardized testing is abhorrent, if they must be used, let the results be factored from standardized assessments of ability that indicate where the students are to begin with. The result of doing this would be to report school performance in terms of students working below, at, or above expectancy levels7. Interestingly, reporting performance factored by cultural ability testing also impacts all other SES schools. Again, in the Hoover, study when controlling for SES, an equal number of state-reported high performing schools dropped from the highest performance levels to among the lowest.

     We do wish to emphatically state that reporting student academic performance factored from ability tests of cultural capital, while leveling the playing field and giving significantly more integrity to school report cards in terms of the actual impact local educators are having on their students, is still morally wrong. The problem, in the sense of basic democratic ideals, exists because factoring ability implicitly still accepts the faulty premise of proficiency tests as being valid representations of what students know; they are not.

     That these tests are not valid representations of what students know goes beyond their economic class bias. The deeper problem with standardized proficiency tests, regardless of what the various legislative acts call them, has to do with what is actually being tested in terms of the student’s intellectual or cognitive abilities. Alfie Kohn (2000) puts it succinctly, saying that "right answers don’t necessarily signal understanding and wrong answers don’t necessarily signal the absence of understanding."

     For example, just because a student gets a number of algebra problems correct does not mean the student knows algebra. Indeed, the student who gets the right answer to a problem in binomial multiplication is likely to have more in common with a student who gets the wrong answer because neither of the students knows how, why, where, or when to apply the concept to real-world situations. Being able to get math problems correct on a proficiency test does not mean the student can reason and apply mathematics any more than being able to identify a gerund or a participle means that a student can write well.

      Even worse are the twin illusions of student academic competence and academic incompetence resulting from the test scores themselves. Though rarely discussed or questioned, the reality is that the predominantly high scores realized by students of the upper economic classes do not validly indicate dispositions or abilities to actually know how, where, and when to apply the knowledge. In terms of the illusion created by reform-based accountability that kids in poverty don't or can’t learn (we know that they can and do8) or the corollary that the teachers of low SES students are inferior to those of higher SES students, we also must recognize the illusion that high SES kids learn and are proficient with the knowledge the tests claim to measure.

     The important point here for democratic education is that reform-based policy uses these tests to make the claim that a student’s test results accurately denote the student’s intellectual ability and worth; they do not and cannot be shown to do this. Further complicating the problem of the confidence claimed and the reality known about standardized test performance is the fact that different people test differently. Test reliability9 is not just a function of test construction. It is also a function of being human-- the attitude, the mental and physical condition, the cognitive style, and the test-taking ability of the test taker.

     To put this simply, no one in their right mind would consider issuing driving licenses based solely upon the applicants’ performance on the written driving test. Before the ability to drive can be validly determined, applicants are required to drive a car and are judged based upon their demonstrated driving ability in an authentic context. Thus it is that we must all view written tests of so-called academic ability as only partial evidence, usually meager at best, of what a student may or may not actually know.

     Democratic interests and activism must engage the public in educating them that the actual impact a school and its personnel are having on their students is usually very far removed from the impact that is reported though reform mechanisms imposed on schools by the various states and now by the President and Congress. In the best sense of democratic principles, the public, most especially the parents, has a right to hold law makers accountable for given them fair, valid, and unbiased reports on their school’s performance. To settle for less when valid reports can be easily produced, is to settle for living in a less than democratic society.

     The essential truth is that the formal validity of any test used for accountability determines the degree of authenticity of the accountability report and the degree of integrity in the laws and policies that use that testing to punish or reward those being held accountable. Further, the issue of integrity in accountability claims is a democratic right. Stakeholders, no matter how distant from the realities of schools, are entitled to know just how accountability results are formed and what they truly signify.

     Another issue affecting the most elemental principles of democracy underscored by the problems of pseudo accountability is the denial of opportunity to school students. The denial of opportunity takes two overt forms10: The first is the denial of graduation or promotion based upon high stakes test scores that do not assess the ability of the student. The second way is in the constriction of the curriculum, the gutting of learning experiences from eliminating enrichment classes and empowering units within classes to the elimination of play time for kindergartners.

     Because high stakes testing exhibits such powerful economic bias, the use of such tests for grade promotion and graduation is capricious and arbitrary; it is pseudo accountability with its severest impact. The denial of opportunity to graduate is the denial of opportunity for a great many more of life’s opportunities from entering college to joining the armed forces. For students living in poverty, it is the express denial of opportunity for economic empowerment and self help through lost job opportunities. Indeed, our advice to those who hold dearly the right to constitutional protections would be to seek a 14th Amendment-based law suit showing that due process has been violated. We believe there is ample evidence for this argument and court precedence to support the case.

     Even more insidious is the evidence of the quietly narrowing of curriculum in favor of teaching to the test activities. Teaching to the tests, the narrowing of the curriculum into the drill and practice of plugging and jerking abstract and personally meaningless knowledge deskills students across all economic levels. When we recognize that curriculum is what the students have the opportunity to learn (McCutcheon, 1995), discussions with teachers, students, and parents quickly reveal that more and more classes and units within classes are being removed to provide more time to teach to the tests. The classes and activities most vulnerable to being pushed aside for test teaching are those that appear to be most distant from the so-called "basics" found on the high stakes tests.

     Once again, we encounter the cookie cutter mentality, the one-size-fits-all belief that is the inherent assumption of the entire neo-conservative reform movement. The denials of opportunity found in the uses of tests for promotion-graduation sanctions and in the push to narrow the curriculum are fundamentally contrary to democratic ideals and principles. These denials are contrary to what all research shows about human development, human intellectual growth, and quantitative assessments of that growth and development.

      The idea that one paper and pencil standardized test can assess and predict the ability, aptitude, capability, talent, human potential, and future of any human being defies simple common sense as powerfully as it defies the entire body of scientific research telling us it is simply impossible to do. That reform-based proficiency testing forces the definition of what a human child is worth into the narrow parameters of their ideological claims is antithetical to the fundamental democratic principles of self determination, the freedom to find one’s own voice and vocation (calling) in life, and, the right to a good public school education.

     It is also important for the champions of democratic principles to understand that the sloganizing of the term "standards11" or the creation of standards does not make tests or accountability reports more valid. Indeed, the term "standards" is used in different ways by reform proponents to seemingly justify testing and to capture the emotions of unthinking audiences. The term used is ideologically vague, and its meaning cuts across specific uses such as those signifying teaching methods, outcome knowledge, tougher testing, and educator accountability. As Kohn (1999) notes well, terms such as "tough," "competitive," word-class," "measurable," "accountability," "standards," "results," and "raising the bar" are often used interchangeably and in random combination to fuel passion for the rhetoric of reform. One of many problems implicit in such language is that all of it feeds the belief that we can force students into learning by testing them, a truly absurd notion that defies common sense as much as it does the vast body of research on human learning.

     The intrusions of both state and national government reform initiatives into public schools significantly changes the nature and the outcomes of schooling by narrowing the allowable for professional educators and narrowing the possible for students. By forcing pseudo accountability with tests that are not valid for what proponents claim and by the construction of school report cards that completely mask the actual impact educators have on academic achievement public schools are held hostage by corporate interests at the expense of civic interests. Subsequently, another aspect of democracy is sullied by the reality that the laws and policies of the school reform movement eliminate the last vestiges of local control and community decision latitude in responding to the particular needs of the local districts.

     The difference between a free system of public schooling where local communities engage in participatory democracy in shaping their school district curricula within reasonable state policies and a system of government schools ruled by corporate special-interest agendas (Kohn, 1999) under the guise of governmental school reform can be seen by analogy to America’s system of public libraries12. For proponents of democracy in education, we believe that it is vital to understand the role of public schools in maintaining and nurturing democratic life and, in this sense, to understand the reform movement’s replacement of public schools with government schools.

     America’s public libraries are community institutions, not government institutions. They are quasi-governmental, and decision latitude is vested in local library boards that represent local communities and professional librarians. Public libraries are not government libraries. With the overt regulation of public schools resulting from the volumes of law and policy created by conservative, special interest group initiatives, public schools are public now in name only; they have become government schools with decision latitude being moved into a set, one-size-fits-all government regulations that do not serve the best interests of the governed.

     The rhetoric of reform-based school accountability is replete with slogans to defer intelligent and reasoned criticism. For one example, the slogan "No Excuses" has been used to obfuscate and bury well reasoned, scientifically grounded explanations for test results and for accountability claims that do not validly assess academic performance; an explanation is not an excuse if it is valid. Likewise, alternate accountability models exist and can serve to enhance both the quality of public schooling and the principles of democracy.     

     We would posit that in an authentic accountability model, the degreed and licensed professionals in school districts be charged and empowered to design an accountability system that validly and defensibly reflects the achievement of their students and the performance accomplishments of their school district. The system certainly can include state or national tests, but the districts should be prohibited from the use of any single standardized test or any high stakes assessment instrument to represent the achievement of their students or the effectiveness of their school district. Standardized assessments of students should be used only in accordance with established, elemental parameters for assessments based upon recognized learned society standards, research, and public policy positions such as those of the American Educational Research Association. Likewise, standardized tests should be used only in combination with multiple sources and indicators of student growth and development, especially in terms of high-stakes decisions such as retention or graduation.

     Decisions about student progress must be returned to the professionals closest to those who know the children best: The classroom teachers in close partnership with the parents and the principal. Re-centering the local professionals allows for reflective and informed judgments to be made about student progress that recognize the unique nature of all children in terms of their special needs, talents, and circumstances. To shift the onus for accountability back to local schools and communities is in no way a subterfuge for returning to the days of no school accountability. On the contrary, it is a step forward toward validity and integrity in accountability to serve the best interests of all stakeholders, including even distant corporate special interest.

     Vesting decision latitude in the professionals of local districts will accomplish several democratic goals. As educators reclaim primary professional ownership of designing, explaining, and defending criteria that will demonstrate the degree of student growth and achievement, they will be able to publicly assess and critique the impact of their professional decisions and policies on the student population. Public scrutiny with dialogue and discourse is the heart of democracy, especially when the focus is on public schools.

     Current reform-based accountability policies ignore the diversity of communities and the deny the wisdom of allowing a multi-factored approach of assessment to accommodate and pay respect to the differing needs both within school districts and across school districts. Parental involvement and community support are undeniably crucial components of successful education. More local control and responsibility for accountability will facilitate a more democratic inclusion of the community and its families along with the values held by the local citizenry.

     Academic standards and benchmarks should be used as a resource for creative and publicly defensible curricula that will provide a wide spectrum of learning opportunities that are necessary and desirable for a diverse population but arbitrary standards should not be used as restrictions, promoting the narrow and negative consequences of a test-driven curricula. Authentic accountability, properly framed and requiring multiple indicators, serves the democratic ideal of public schools that embraces inclusion13 as a key focus of their vision, unlike government schools that have exclusion as their primary purpose and effect.

     As school district professionals, in partnership with parents, gain more decision latitude over their educational programs, feelings of marginalization and hopelessness by educators and students currently endemic in our schools begin to recede, while authentic accountability (answerability) thrives. Encouragement and motivation through local school community empowerment and responsibility will overtake those negative feelings and will have positive effects on the development of programs and on the educational climate of our schools. This is the backbone of democracy and should be inherent, of all places, in our system of public schooling.

     Democracy is a lived experience, and the activities of teaching and schooling must provide students the opportunities to experience principles of democracy within the school and classroom. "Democratic philosophy as it embodies the ideals of equality, freedom, and justice for all tends to be lost or supplanted when teaching convention is grounded in the dominant ideology of the times" (Hoover & Kindsvatter, 1997, p. 50). Today, with the re-forming of public schools into government schools through the powerful hegemony of the accountability movement, the threat to teaching, experiencing, and realizing democratic ideals has never been more real, especially as teaching convention is driven almost entirely by invalid proficiency tests and pseudo-accountability mechanisms .

     We believe that it is crucial for all of us interested in reanimating democratic practices and ideals in public schools to work with those entrusted to make decisions about public schools and who are obligated to have an understanding of issues before making dramatic decisions that affect the lives of students and the entire field of education.

     This necessarily means that expertise and decision latitude be restored to those who personally and professionally are closest to the students in our schools: Professional educators and parents. Legislators and policy makers should be working collaboratively with educators and professionally recognized educational experts from all levels to provide authentic research-based and practical guidance for assessing student learning and creating accountability models for school practitioners.

Footnotes

  1. Originally titled "High Stakes Testing: Implications for Democratic Education and Activism" in the 2001 IDE Conference Program, this article is a focus on a few important aspects of the original, more general presentation.

  2. The study may be accessed online at http://cc.ysu.edu/~rlhoover/OPT/index.html in HTML format and MSWord download format.

  3. The study shows r = 0.80 (revised figures show r = 0.82) between test performance and economic class.

  4. This term itself is laden with ideological nuance that serves to dilute the decision latitude of professional educators, teacher educators, and parents in terms of shaping what happens in schools, replacing it with increased control by corporate special interests serving profit maximizing agendas remote from the democratic empowerment of students.

  5. In all of our work, the terms "advantaged" and "disadvantaged" refer very specifically to social-economic factors and not to race factors. The Hoover study (2000) showed little bias of testing across race but extremely significant bias across economic class.

  6. Reasoned use of standardized tests with full knowledge of their limitations as set by test makers themselves and by the learned societies of educational research and those of tests and measurement would certainly greatly reduce the use of such tests, never allowing them to be used for high stakes decisions or primary indicators of school accountability.

  7. For years, most school districts have used various tests of ability in conjunction with achievement tests to report student progress. These factored reports using two different kinds of standardized tests report the degree to which a student is performing academically relative to grade-level expectancy.

  8. Hoover’s (2000) study showed no significant difference between high and low SES learning ability when controlling for SES factors. The same was found for white and African-American students.

  9. Formally, test reliability is extremely important in that it has many facets, all of which affect the degree of confidence we can have in any one test score. As seen in the concept of standard error of measurement, any and all student scores cannot be given precisely as a single stated score. True scores exist within an interval that has a range of plus or minus from the given score. Because of this, no single student score can ever be claimed as completely precise. With state proficiency tests, the standard error is rarely given or used to explain the scores.

  10. The denial of opportunity also takes the less obvious form of creating artificial senses of self worth and self competence as students began to identify with their worth and potential with their performance on the tests.

  11. For an outstanding overview of the mystification and misrepresentation of the term "standards" by reform proponents see Alfie Kohn’s article in "Education Week" at http://www.edweek.org/ew/1999/02kohn.h19.

  12. The actual origin of this analogy is unknown to us. However, we are grateful to whomever conceived it and would cite the author appropriately.

  13. By the term "inclusion" we mean to encompass individual differences, learning styles, aptitude, and interest as well as the matrix of race, class, gender, ethnicity, disability, and life-style preference.

References
Apple, Michael (1993), Official Knowledge: Democratic Education in Conservative Age. NY: Routledge.
Broudy, Harry. (1983) Truth and Credibility, A Citizens Dilemma. NY: Longman.
Hoover, Randy L. (2000), "Forces and Factors Affecting Ohio Proficiency Test Performance: A Study of 593 Ohio School Districts." http://cc.ysu.edu/~rlhoover/OPT/index.html .
Hoover, Randy L. & Kindsvatter, Richard (1997), Democratic Discipline: Foundation and Practice. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Kohn, Alfie (2000), The Case Against Standardized Testing. Portsmouth, NH: Heineman
Kohn, Alfie (1999), The Schools our Children Deserve. NY: Houghton Mifflin.

About the Authors

     Randy L. Hoover (B. A. Political Science, M. S. in Educational Administration, Ph.D. in Teacher Education) is a professor of education in Beeghly College of Education at Youngstown State University where he has taught for the past 18 years. Prior to getting his doctorate from Ohio State, he taught 12 years in Madison Local Schools, Madison, Oh. He is the co-author with Richard Kindsvatter, Ph. D., of Democratic Discipline: Foundations and Practice (Prentice Hall, 1997), is the author of numerous articles, and the author of "Forces and Factors Affecting Ohio Proficiency Test Performance: A Study of 593 Ohio School Districts," an empirical study exposing the fictional validity of Ohio's proficiency tests. He has spoken widely on the topic of proficiency testing and school accountability across Ohio and has been the subject of interviews and stories carried by the media. He is a active public advocate of classroom teachers and especially of urban public schools. He is a member of the graduate faculty of YSU and a full professor.

      Kathy L. Shook is currently the Director of Special Services for Poland Local Schools in Poland, Ohio. She has a master's degree in counseling and a master's degree in educational administration. She is currently a doctoral candidate in Educational Leadership at Youngstown State University where she also teaches part time. She has been a special education teacher, a school counselor, and has worked in public education for 26 years. She is working on her dissertation researching school assessment and accountability systems. She has been active in publicly speaking and testifying for more reasoned and valid school accountability models.