Earlier this month, Massachusetts officials unveiled a new plan to hold schools accountable for students’ pandemic recovery. The pushback was swift.

Members of the state board of education questioned the pacing of the plan, which gives schools where students fell furthest behind up to four years to return to pre-pandemic academic levels. Worried the plan would widen achievement gaps, they called for more ambitious goals.

“We must do better,” one board member said, noting the generous federal aid schools received to speed students’ recovery.

At the following board meeting, held last week, school district leaders from across the state showed up to defend the plan. They enumerated the challenges students faced during the pandemic, from housing instability to poor mental health, and the staff shortages and other difficulties that continue to plague schools. The state must take those extraordinary circumstances into account, they argued.

“It is important that accountability systems be not only aggressive,” one superintendent said, “but also achievable and compassionate.”

This debate — in essence, whether to ease up on academic expectations or double down — is flaring up across the country as school accountability systems creak back to life after a pandemic pause.

Mandated by federal and state laws, the systems set goals for schools, rate their performance, and direct support to schools identified as struggling. But the pandemic has complicated every step of that process.

What are reasonable goals after student test scores plunged last year to their lowest level in decades? How to acknowledge schools’ dogged efforts to distribute meals and laptops, offer COVID testing, and track down missing students during a public health crisis, while still insisting that they provide students a rigorous education? And what is the right way to target support when so many students need so much help?

As states try to answer those questions, longstanding disagreements over testing students and rating schools have resurfaced — and calls to rethink those practices have grown.

Read the full article about school accountability by Patrick Wall at Chalkbeat.