Test-based accountability: Time to wobble?

Minority and special-ed students made significant gains once states and then No Child Left Behind began holding schools accountable for their performance, argues Bush adviser Sandy Kress in a New York Daily News op-ed. Kress accuses President Obama of going “wobbly” on  accountability.

Under the framework being proposed for the reform of the law, the administration would require that, unless a school is among the very worst in the nation, it would no longer be required to improve even if it continues to fail its black, Hispanic and other disadvantaged kids. Further, in the case of schools that do not improve, special tutoring and public school choice would no longer be required.

In Fact-checking Sandy Kress, Fordham’s Mike Petrilli argues that nearly all the improvement occurred by 2004, less than two years after NCLB was implemented.

For instance, according to the NAEP, the average reading score for Black 9-year olds rose from 186 in 1999 to 204 in 2008–an increase of 18 points. (At 10 points per grade level that comes close enough to the “two grade levels” of progress Kress claims.) Hispanic 9-year olds increased their average reading scores from 213 in 1999 to 234 in 2008–an increase of 21 points. Fourth-grade students with disabilities increased their reading scores from 167 in 2000 to 189 in 2009.

. . . For Black 9-year-olds, 78 percent of the improvement took place in the five years between 1999 and 2004, compared to 22 percent in the four years between 2004 and 2008. For Hispanic students, 81 percent of the gains occurred between 1999 and 2004, compared to 19 percent between 2004 and 2008. For fourth-grade students with disabilities, 91 percent of the gains occurred in just two years: between 2000 and 2002.

While there’s “plausible evidence to credit accountability-based reforms,” writes Petrilli, NCLB can’t claim much credit since it didn’t start till fall of 2002.

Petrilli thinks the states’ accountability measures boosted student achievement in the late 1990s to early 2000s. NCLB jumped on a moving bandwagon. “To me, the evidence shows that NCLB and test-based accountability had their day in the sun, and made a big difference, but now it’s time to try something else if we want to see progress continue.”

Kress responds in an e-mail with more NAEP data:

Let’s deal with the easy part – gains on the Long Term Trend for students with disabilities (SWDs) and English Language Learners (ELLs) from 2004-2008. This is squarely within NCLB time.

9 year old SWDs improved a half grade level (5 points) in reading.

9 year olds ELLs improved almost a grade level (8 points) in reading.

9 year old SWDs improved over a half grade level (6 points) in math.

9 year old ELLs improved 3 points in math.

13 year old SWDs improved 3 points in math.

13 year old ELLs improved over a half grade level (7 points) in math.

13 year old SWDs improved almost a full grade level (9 points) in reading.

13 year old ELLs improved 2 points in reading.

Now, since Mike is enamored of the Main NDE, let’s look at that data:

For 4th grade math, it is true that SWDs had an incredible jump from 2000 to 2003, from 200 to 216. I don’t want to argue this was due to NCLB, but, since there’s almost a full academic year since the summer of 2002 in this data, I would suggest that this bridge period probably shouldn’t be used for a pre and post analysis.

In any event, 4th grade SWDs have gone up 7 points since 2003, which is a gain of over a half a grade level. 4th grade ELLs had that nice pop in 2003, too, but also have grown an additional half grade level since.

It is incontestable that something unusual happened in NAEP testing between the late 1990s and 2002 and 2003, first a drop and then an unusual increase. I can’t explain it, and I suspect Mike can’t either. I invite thoughts from any and all of you on that topic.

Nevertheless, it is heartening to see that 4th grade ELLs have improved over a half grade level in reading since 2002, and SWDs have improved almost a half grade level as well.

The same pattern of a pop in 2003 occurs in 8th grade math with further gains for SWDs and ELLs after 2003. Reading at the 8th grade level is stagnant.

“Consequential accountability, which began in many states in the mid-1990s and was extended and deepened by NCLB, works!” Kress writes. “Any weakening of its pillars threatens the progress we’ve made.”

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  1. It would seem to me that most new strategies and interventions have a pretty decent chance of working well the first year. The proof of things comes years later.

  2. tim-10-ber says:

    Yes…the best thing about NCLB is the differientiated data and the spotlight it puts on the kids schools had not been teaching…special ed kids were just being taught life skills when many could do higher level math just at not so advanced a level…needed different text books or whatever…

    But because the focus was then on the kids at the bottom the kids in the mdidle didn’t move up, many may have moved down and the kids at the top actually started performing worse. Not very smart of educators at all…

    The sad thing is now the scores are used as punishment rather than how to improve…I am very much in favor of the tests scores being made public…we have no way of knowing how public education is doing without this and as a taxpayer I want to know my money is well spent…but, are schools really failing when it is four kids that miss the boat year after year? are school really failing when the ELL kids are improving but not fast enough (we know these kids are not stupid they just have to understand and comprehend working in another language) or should all SPED kids be tested?

    Can’t adjustments be made to the testing requirements? Just asking…

  3. I wonder how much of the reading gains come from the move away from the “whole language” fad back to phonics-based instruction. My brother went through school in the ’90’s and he had *TERRIBLE* language arts instruction.

  4. Whole language was on the skids before NCLB. The great victory of whole language advocates in mandating whole language as the only methodology allowable in California pretty much made them the owners of the resulting catastrophic decline in reading score excuses about Spanish-speaking kids not withstanding.

  5. Of course Sandy Kress thinks its great, the companies he shills for make tons of money off it.