Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Problems with Too High a Standard

So why not set the highest standards in the nation?

Suppose your kids go to a low-performing school; that school scored 40 on the math test.

In order to be declared as making "adequate yearly progress", this school would need to improve its score by 5 points every year. After two years, it would be up to 50. Four years, 60. Six years, 70. Eight years, 80. Ten years, 90. Twelve Years, 100.

Bingo, isn't that what we want?

Well, let's see what happens under AYP. Last year was a good year for Hispanic kids on the math tests; they gained, on average, 3 points, faster than any other subgroup and twice as fast as White kids. Suppose they managed that level of phenomenal gains for twelve years.

In the first year, they would miss AYP, because they would need to reach a score of 45, but they would only reach 43.

Second year, they'd miss, hitting 46, but needing 50. Hmm. Now they are four points down. The school is listed in the newspaper as failing to make adequate progress.

Third year, hit 49, need 55. Down by six points - they will need to advance by 11 points next year to avoid going into 4th year sanctions, where the principal can be fired.

Fourth year, they hit 52, but too bad; the state starts to assume control of their school, because they needed to hit 60. And the situation is looking really dire; next year, to avoid going into the terminal stage of sanctions, they will need to improve by a whopping 13 points.

Fifth year, they hit 55. They've improved by about as much as anyone in the state over five years, but the school goes to the final stage of restructuring, because they would have to hit 65 to avoid seeing "all or most of the staff fired", and have the school reopen either as a charter school, or under an approved private management firm, or under the control of the state.

Now, the situation is much worse than this, because these have been historically high gains for this group of special ed kids. Last year, on average, saw English Language Arts scores DECLINE by three tenths of a point across the state. It was a good year for math, with an average 1.5 point gain.

But guess what? The average "improvement target" last year for English was 5.3, and for math was 8.6. For subgroups, the improvement required to avoid making "inadequate progress" was 17.9 for Special Ed Math, 14.0 for Limited English Speakers on English Language.

Any further determinations of "adequate progress" are simply meaningless when the required gains in a year reach than a few points. A school could have top 10% performance in the state for three years running and still reach fifth year sanctions - firing all or most of the staff, turn over control to the state.

Look at it another way. A school that started at 90 is expected to go from 90 to 100 in 12 years. A school that started at 40 is expected to go from 90 to 100 in 2 years, after they have already gone from 40 to 90 in ten years.

Unrealistic expectations to meet a seemingly noble goal can do as much harm as good. They can be used to justify a sense of urgency for questionable, untested, or perhaps even counter-productive reforms. And they sap any sense of achievement along the way.

We must have realistic goals and timeframes as a starting point for serious education reform.


Anonymous parentalcation said...

The 100% goal is ridiculus... no school will ever reach 100% passing ever! The law will change in a few years at some realistic value such as 90%.

The real problem with NCLB is its use of state standards and a snapshot view.

NCLB should be tied to national standards and a value added measurement.

October 30, 2006  
Blogger MassParent said...

I think I'm satisfied with a national test (NAEP) that can be used to calibrate state results, rather than nationalizing accountability standards.

Nationalized standards will encourage a cartel for testing and curriculum materials. Perhaps I'm concerned about water already over the dam.

As well, I don't want a national standard until we've got achievable goals and logical sanctions. NCLB has worked up to now mainly by inspiring fear of consequences, but as the bar rises and more and more schools get to 5th year sanctions, we'd better have something in place in which the consequences make sense and we don't identify schools that don't need intervention.

November 03, 2006  

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