Saturday, July 23, 2005

NCLB Update: Measuring Student Learning

July 2005 | Volume 4, Number 6
Focus On …
NCLB Update: Measuring Student Learning

Measuring student learning is a central focus of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). In fact, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has referred to testing as "the linchpin of the whole doggone thing." Spellings has insisted states strictly follow the law's requirement of testing students each year in grades 3–8, but new opportunities may open up for states that want to change the way they assess student learning.
The U.S. Department of Education has convened a series of meetings to review whether states should have a new option to meet NCLB's assessment provisions. This option would allow states to measure individual students' growth from year to year. The current practice compares the performance of students in a particular grade with the performance of students in that same grade the previous year.

The Department held the first of these meetings on June 22 with an invited group of researchers, state and local officials, and representatives from nonprofit organizations and interest groups. It is not yet clear which growth models are under consideration, though one meeting attendee told Education Week that the Department appeared interested in a range of options. Several different growth models have been proposed already by states eager to find more accurate methods of measuring improvements in student achievement.
Pioneering States
The federal government previously approved one accountability model that includes measures of student growth. In Massachusetts, schools are awarded 100 points for each student who scores at the proficient level or higher, but they also gain reduced credit for students who improve at lower levels. For example, schools receive points for moving students from "failing" to "needs improvement," even though those students did not score at the proficient level.

Minnesota and Oklahoma use a similar method under NCLB's "safe harbor" provision. Schools that initially do not meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in those states may still pass if they reduce the percent of non-proficient students in a subgroup by 10 percent from the previous year. Bills have also been approved in the Minnesota House and Senate to provide for developing value-added assessments.

Still other states, including Florida and Tennessee, have submitted proposals that would allow schools that failed to make AYP use growth measures as a second chance measure. Tennessee, for example, has proposed tracking the performance of individual students over time and evaluating schools based on how much academic growth each student makes from year to year.

In June, New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein announced similar plans to measure each student's growth. The proposed plan will compare a school's results, grade by grade, against student improvement in similar schools. It will also include a comprehensive assessment of each school's learning environment, including parental involvement and the quality of work students must complete.

Klein said this growth model would present a wealth of information about teaching and learning, as well as provide "a powerful tool for working with educators to improve where necessary and to share best practices where appropriate." He said the new system would be a supplement to, not a replacement for, a focus on absolute achievement.
Concerns from Policymakers and Researchers
Some policymakers and federal officials have been wary of value-added and growth models. Unlike current AYP calculations, not all growth models are designed to measure a school's progress toward achieving NCLB's goal of 100% proficiency by 2014. Sandy Kress, a former education advisor to President George Bush, said he does not believe growth models will be approved under NCLB unless they are based on students' reaching proficiency.

Researchers also have raised questions about technical issues surrounding growth models—such as the quality of the test, whether to adjust for student and school characteristics, and what to do when some data on individual students are missing.
Looking Ahead
Holly Kuzmich, a senior policy adviser in the U.S. Department of Education, told Education Week that the Department does not have a timeline for when it will complete its work. "Obviously, we want to work on this as quickly as possible and get an answer to the secretary as quickly as possible," she said, "but we need to gather all the right information."

The Department of Education plans to include other interested groups in future meetings. The individuals invited to the June meeting were:
Patricia Brenneman, the superintendent of the Oak Hills, Ohio, school district;

Michael D. Casserly, the executive director of the Washington-based Council of Great City Schools;

Mitchell Chester, an assistant superintendent in the Ohio education department;

Chrys Dougherty, the director of research for the National Center for Educational Accountability in Austin, Texas;

Lou Fabrizio, the director of accountability for the North Carolina education department;

Brian Gong, the executive director of the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment in Dover, N.H.;

Eric Hanushek, a professor of education at Stanford University;

Kati Haycock, the director of the Washington-based Education Trust;

Ted Hershberg, a professor of public policy and history at the University of Pennsylvania;

Tom Houlihan, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers;

Jim Mahoney, the executive director of Battelle for Kids;

Lana Seivers, the commissioner of education in Tennessee;

Richard Wenning, the accountability program director for the Denver-based Colorado League of Charter Schools; and

John L. Winn, the commissioner of education in Florida.


Federal Government Exploring Individual Student Growth Under NCLB
Education Week (registration required)
White Paper. The implementation of the accountability provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act: A state perspective
California Department of Education
ED Panel To Explore Growth Models For AYP
Title I Online
States Hoping to "Grow" Into AYP Success
Education Week (registration required)
State Lawmakers Want a New Approach to Student Testing
Minnesota Public Radio
N.Y.C. Schools to Measure Gains, Not Just Raw Test Scores
Education Week (registration required)


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