Refocusing NCLB

No Child Left Behind provides a distorted picture of school quality, writes Paul Peterson, editor-in-chief of Education Next.

Many good schools — both charter schools and inner-city public schools serving the disadvantaged — are not recognized as such, while many poorly performing schools are given a pass. If NCLB is to fulfill its mission, Congress needs to make some major repairs or risk seeing those opposed to all forms of school accountability assume control of the political battleground.

There’s evidence that test scores are rising more in states that were the first to put in accountability systems, Peterson writes. But NCLB sets goals that are too easy for schools that start with high-performing students and fail to measure progress in high-poverty schools that start with low-performing students.

He suggests tracking individual students’ progress and using an A to F scale, not pass-fail, to evaluate how well schools are helping students improve.

Peterson also wants to hold students and teachers accountable for progress.

At one time, student promotion to the next grade was conditional on performance, and graduation from high school depended on learning a specific body of material. Gradually, it has become standard practice to promote virtually all students from one grade to the next, regardless of whether they have learned the material. Such practices are justified on the grounds that holding a child back for poor performance only undermines self-esteem and aggravates learning problems. Minimal high-school graduation requirements are similarly justified on the grounds that having a diploma is better than not receiving one, regardless of what is learned.

Florida third graders’ performance jumped when they had to pass a test to be promoted, Peterson writes. “In Massachusetts, the expectation that students pass a 10th-grade test if they are to graduate from high school spiked student performance the first year the law was introduced, with continuing gains in subsequent years.”

Once it’s possible to track students’ progress, it will be possible to identify which teachers are more or less effective in helping students improve.

That information can be used to reward the high performers and to counsel the low performers, who should be dismissed if they remain consistently ineffective classroom teachers.

But don’t hold your breath on any of this. NCLB’s defects aren’t accidental, Peterson writes. They’re the result of political tradeoffs. Change requires goring the oxen of unions, parents, state politicians, suburban districts and more.

In Teachers Magazine, a charter school teacher from St. Louis wants her school to get credit for improving low-income, black students’ performance — but not enough to meet proficiency goals.

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Comments

  1. Robert Wright says:

    “Once it’s possible to track students’ progress,
    it will be possible to identify which teachers
    are more or less effective in helping students
    improve.”

    Imagine being a door to door salesman for a company that keeps track of how many doors you knock on but not how many items you sell.

    If my students master the parts of speech this year, or if they don’t, my boss will never know. And in either case I’ll get paid the same.

  2. The only effective way to track students effectively is to use uniform exit tests each year, perhaps each semester. Numeric grades, perhaps broken down into sections, could be inputed into computerized student records than can display progress over a 13 years span. Any data needed to measure progress could be easily crunched by the program used so that students, teachers, and schools could be compared and evaluated.

    Problems –
    1) Standardized tests – this bogeyman of assessment is verboten in many districts

    2) Susprisingly, I’m not confident that an adequate data program could (well, would) be designed for this. My experience with educational software has left me using Microsoft Office for most of what I need, and I usually do a better job that what others can with specialized software. Excel with the right macros would probably do a fair job itself.

    3) Comparison and evaluation – the educational community shies away from formally comparing the success of students, let alone teachers. As stated by Peterson, unions would launch a jihad at this motion if it is introduced.

    My opinion? Just do it.

  3. “Once it’s possible to track students’ progress,
    it will be possible to identify which teachers
    are more or less effective in helping students
    improve.”

    This is already the case in Tennessee, thanks to the state’s value-added assessment system (TVAAS). However, the public only has access to school-level effectiveness data; teacher-level data isn’t available to the public.

  4. Brett –
    I have to say that I agree with Tennessee’s system. If parents were able to view individual teacher’s ratings, it would create all sorts of problems as parents would fight with each other and the school to get the best teacher for their child.
    As it stands, I’d say that the published school ratings would likely be enough to motivate schools to manage their teachers.

  5. There is NO way to know what students are learning without tracking. The fear that it may genuinely uncover which kids are learning more or which teachers are more effective is so politically incorrect though…

  6. Robert Wright says:

    “If parents were able to view individual teacher’s ratings, it would create all sorts of problems as parents would fight with each other and the school to get the best teacher for their child.”

    Those are the kinds of problems we need.

    Growing pains.

    That status quo needs to be shaken up.

    We need school choice and competition. We need a school system modeled on the market place instead of the Soviet Union.

    Parents fighting for the best teachers. I like it.

    It sure beats the air resignation created by the traditional system of “you’ll take what we give you.”

  7. Hey Brett, like NCLB assessment tests, value added assessment also has issues. If I have a kid in my seventh-grade class, who reads at a fourth-grade level, is it realistic to believe that I’m going to add a grade level to this student’s reading in one year? Also, there remains the problem with the validity of the testing instruments themselves.

    I would like the concept of VAAS if teachers and administrators in a district created the tests. Then, if we gave similar tests each year (at the beginning and the end), only at higher levels as students go from grade to grade, we might truly have a measurement of achievement.

    Like most current achievement measures, it still needs a lot of work, especially if it’s something we’re using to measure the value of teachers.

  8. Bell Work Online wrote:

    “If I have a kid in my seventh-grade class, who reads at a fourth-grade level, is it realistic to believe that I’m going to add a grade level to this student’s reading in one year?”

    Yes. Furthermore, a year’s growth is a paltry goal with a student so far behind. Failure to move that student at least two years is just that: failure. If one feels he or she cannot do that and more, it is fraud to accept a teaching position where one may encounter students such as that one.

  9. I think people are also missing what happens with the make-up of the students in particular classes.

    Honors classes may not show the same growth as others but may all pass the state test. When near the top of the achievement ladder on these tests, it’s difficult to show one’s growth on these tests. Would an increase of 5% (from say 89 to 84) be seen as a failure compared to another class of kids rising from 62 to 73 (an 11% increase)?

    When would this type of system begin? If students can proceed from one grade to the next without meeting specific scores, then the incentive to perform is absent. And, if students are not held accountable until high school, then they are trained to believe the tests don’t matter (a problem in my state).

    I must be honest here as well: if my pay or evaluation is dependent on state test scores, that is all I would teach. Everything would come back to the state test.

    Plus, this would create an atmosphere of competition rather than collaboration among teachers. I would not share my effective practices with anyone because my pay, evaluation, and reputation would be based on test scores. This would become common. Without collaboration among all teachers, overall achievement would drop.

    Cynical, yes. But realistic.

  10. DrPezz

    I don’t think it’s at all unrealistic or difficult to create a sliding scale, where students who begin a given year “near the top,” are required to show relatively less growth to meet a specific benchmark. Accordingly, much lower performing students would need to demonstrate more dramatic growth, both because there is room to do so, but also because there is an overarching need.

  11. 1) Teachers are not given a choice of what students they are assigned to teach. Give me a class of leadership kids, you’ll think I’m a teaching wiz. Give me a class of special ed students, and you will think I’m mediocre at best.

    2) Someone explain to me how to teach a kid who won’t bring his books, won’t do any classwork or homework, and spends most of his time causing trouble, and interferring in the education of the other students. Because until you do, it is patently unfair to judge my worth on his performance. But you hold me and my school accountable for his performance, but not him.

    3) Administrators won’t retain students because it drags down the school’s test scores. The philosphy is promote them out and make them someone else’s problem.

  12. Gahrie issues common complaints.

    “1)Teachers are not given a choice of what students they are assigned to teach.”

    Sure, but we can choose the schools and neighborhoods in which we seek employ, and the subject areas in which we seek credentials. Please save tales of vindictive admin; you know who your likely students are.

    “2) you hold me and my school accountable for [the disruptive student’s] performance, but not him.”

    Yup. As teachers, it is our job to reach these students. It’s on us. That said, the tiny negligible accountability measures to which our profession is held are nothing in comparison to how the world will hold that skill-less, future-less kid accountable. For whom are the stakes higher?

    “3) Administrators won’t retain students because it drags down the school’s test scores.”

    Maybe. Although KIPP has shown some pretty remarkable scores by retaining kids.

  13. 1) Teachers are not given a choice of what students they are assigned to teach.

    Farmers aren’t given a choice of weather, doctors aren’t given a choice of patient, salespeople aren’t given a choice of customer. They all have one thing teachers lack and it isn’t a Doctor of Thinkology degree. They all have, along with most of the rest of society, extrinsic motivations. A farmer may love to farm but he’s got to extract a profit from the earth or he won’t be farming for long. A doctor who kills too many….OK, bad example.

    But teaching, until you get to the college level, has no extrinsic motivation. You’re good because your pride won’t let you be anything but or you stink because you don’t give a damn. There’s no Rookie of the Year teacher, no Superbowl of Teaching championship rings, and, there’s none of the more substantial rewards of being the best in your field either.

    2) Someone explain to me how to teach a kid who won’t bring his books

    There seems to be some confusion on your part. It’s *you* who has to know how to teach a kid who won’t bring his books. Trouble is, how do you differentiate between the brilliant, passionate teacher handed an impossible assignment and the lazy good-for-nothing who’s just looking for an easy ride?

    3) Administrators won’t retain students because it drags down the school’s test scores.

    That’s commonly known as cheating. You punish cheaters both for doing wrong and to deter others who are contemplating doing wrong.

    But notice that the administrator now has some bar to clear, some goal to meet. One way to do that is to cheat. Another is to meet the goals set for you honestly. Most people would rather achieve their goals honestly since, at the very least, you don’t have to worry about the past coming back to haunt you.

    Here’s the beauty part.

    Once an administrator has a goal to meet his subordinates assume a value they didn’t previously have. Abusive administrators will continue to drive away talent but that becomes a self-correcting problem when other, more thoughtful administrators, are waiting to scoop up the talent. The abuser, having driven away the personnel capable of helping him meet his goal are soon gone themselves.

  14. There seems to be a lack of understanding among some regarding TVAAS in particular and value-added systems in general.

    First, responding to Bell Work Online’s assertion that the tests aren’t valid, and we need teacher and district-created tests – the tests are valid (see http://www.education-consumers.com/ecf_vaaa_about_tvaa.php for an unbiased overview), and the absolute last thing we need are hundreds of different tests floating around with no independent measure of validity. That would be worse than worthless. You’ve got to have a tremendous amount of data to determine validity and build legitimate models, as well as an understanding of some pretty sophisticated statistical techniques.

    And regarding whether high-achievers can be measured – yes, they can. In Tennessee, there is a mix of high and low poverty schools among both the top-achieving and the lowest-achieving schools in the state, and in fact charting TVAAS achievement levels versus poverty rates shows virtually no correlation between the two.

  15. Richard Cook says:

    Allen and TMAO

    If it is so simple why are we failing so badly?

    “Yup. As teachers, it is our job to reach these students. It’s on us. That said, the tiny negligible accountability measures to which our profession is held are nothing in comparison to how the world will hold that skill-less, future-less kid accountable. For whom are the stakes higher?”

    It is not all on the teacher. The parent has to be willing to contribute to their child’s learning but if not and they actually stand in the way (You’re not giving MY child an F) the teacher can only do so much. If the parent is not willing the teacher is to take over the role? Yeah. Right.

    Again if it is so simple why are we failing so badly?

  16. Richard Cook says:

    “Once an administrator has a goal to meet his subordinates assume a value they didn’t previously have. Abusive administrators will continue to drive away talent but that becomes a self-correcting problem when other, more thoughtful administrators, are waiting to scoop up the talent. The abuser, having driven away the personnel capable of helping him meet his goal are soon gone themselves.”

    That last one is a hoot. In the smaller districts these administrators go on for years and years insulated by school boards and parental connections.

    A very good friend of mine is quitting his teaching position because of the same thing but the administrator will be there until death.

  17. Richard Cook says:

    Oh yeah, one final thing. What about being a male teacher being evaluated by females in this dynamic? Think the eval will be fair:

    http://online.wsj.com/article_print/SB118782905698506010.html

  18. Richard wrote, “If it is so simple why are we failing so badly?”

    Because educators — from all levels of the ed hierarchy — refuse to take primary ownership of the process of teaching and learning. They hem and haw and elevate caveats and exceptions to the level of everyday. They make excuse after excuse because while it is simple to understand, on a foundational level, what your role is, it is not simple to be successful.

    We’re failing so badly because folks insist that fatherless kids, or kids in poverty, or kids whose parents will be an i-pod before a binder, cannot be successfully taught. We’re failing so badly because we constantly ask others to change — parents, government, the makers of Grand Theft Auto: San Andres — before we ourselves are willing to make profound alternations to how we do what we do.

    Dig it: What if, in defiance of what we may think or know or see, what if we just pretended we were the single most important factor in determining achievement? What if we pretended, and moved forward as if this were true? What then?

    [Blogging from professional development]

  19. Richard Cook says:

    TMAO

    If the problem is caused by a combination of factors partly inside and partly outside the ability of teaching alone to influence the problem it is unreasonable to posit that teachers alone can solve this problem. That is what you and Allen seem to be suggesting in your posts.

  20. Richard, your last post is exactly what went through my mind after scanning this discussion. Factors outside our control are part of the problem, but we must assume all of the responsibility? I think that’s incongruous at best.

    Another idea people may wish to consider: high school test scores could be a commentary on the entire district’s system or a series of districts’ systems, maybe more so than the high school itself.

    In my district a high level of turnover (25% from 4th to 7th grade and 25% from 7th to 10th grade) results in low scores. However, the students in the district from 4th through 10th pass with 95% success.

  21. The problem is caused by the institutional indifference of the public education system to learning.

    Educational attainment wasn’t, at least until the advent of NCLB, measured. If educational attainment isn’t being measured then the value of the people who can assure those attainments is moot. Good teacher, bad teacher, what difference does it make to a principal or an administrator? And if they don’t care, if they don’t have a reason to care thrust upon them why should they prize teaching skill, seek it out and seek to retain and encourage it?

    If the problem is institutional indifference the solution is institutional interest.

    NCLB, whatever its shortcomings and being a product of the political system they are by definition manifold, has created a stirring of institutional interest.

    Principals now have distinct and measurable goals to attain. They also have, at least theoretically, punishments to suffer for not managing to reach their goals. Given some time I’m sure that an increasingly large number of administrators will come to understand that good teachers make it more likely that they’ll retain their employment and bad teachers less likely.

    Meddlesome higher-ups become the enemy if their demands impede progress toward those distinct and measurable goals.

    Crappy textbooks aren’t just an annoyance, they’re a threat.

    Disruptive students aren’t just a cross for the teacher alone to bear any longer. Now the principal has a stake in the resolution of the situation and not just by covering it up.

  22. I’d be the first to admit I’m math-deficient.

    BUT, if we wanted to measure the competence of a teacher, without penalizing said teacher for problem students (i.e., don’t attend class, don’t turn in homework, who have education-resistant parents), wouldn’t MEAN testing take care of this problem? You throw out the scores of the best and the worst, and you evaluate the performace of the majority of students in the teacher’s class.

    Furthermore, I am a great proponent of what I think is called “tracking.” Group students in classrooms based on their performance. Higher achievers, middle achievers, low achievers. Then the teacher can design the curriculum to meet the needs of a given student-body, and it’s a win-win for EVERYONE (including students and teachers). There will always be teachers that better interact with any given student body. Maybe the high achievers won’t show as much *progress*, maybe the low achievers wont’ either, and maybe we should expect more *progress* from the median.

    I mean, seriously, in this day and age of computer databases, would it be very hard to quantify student-body achievement via individual teacher? I think mixing students of differing abilities in one classroom is a failure. It does a disservice to ALL students.

  23. DrPezz wrote: “Factors outside our control are part of the problem, but we must assume all of the responsibility? I think that’s incongruous at best.”

    The reality of teaching, currently, is there is no formal responsibility to assume. There is no overarching accountability system that demands performance. There certainly is not one found in NCLB legislation.

    I suggest we, as educators, ignore the lack of formal accountability, but ACT as if such a system existed. I suggest we conduct ourselves as if we were powerful, capable professionals, able to foster learning in all students, even if some of us may be weak incompotents. Truly, what else can we do?

    You mention outside factors. Tell me how that works. I’ve got 31 English Language Learners in my class. Is it okay for them not to learn, or not learn very much? Two kids don’t have fathers. Should they learn less? How much less is okay? When do I decide that the outside forces take precedence? When do I give in to poverty, media, ignorance, apathy? Is there a measure of these things? Like a tax deduction form:

    a. poverty [1]
    b. English Learner [1]
    c. baggy pants [1]
    d. bad attitude [1]
    e. parents didn’t come to back-to-school night [1]

    Total the number from side A. If the total number meets or exceeds 3, outside factors absolve you from responsibility. Happy teaching.