Alternative accountability

Eleven states have applied for No Child Left Behind waivers. Mike Petrilli looks at how they propose to deal with accountability.

Here’s what the future holds if the Department of Education gives its assent:

1. A deadline for getting all kids to “proficiency” will go the way of the dinosaur. None of the states opted to set a deadline for universal proficiency. A few agreed to reduce the number of not-yet-proficient students by 50 percent over the next six years, but most developed their own twist on “annual measurable objectives.”

2. A focus on growth will eclipse the need for “subgroup accountability.” Models such as the one proposed by Colorado would set “annual measurable objectives” at the kid-level. Schools would be expected to help all students make enough progress to get them to a college-and-career ready standard by high school. (For high achieving students who are already approaching this standard, schools would be held accountable for making sure they grow at least a year’s worth of learning every year.) This is exactly the right concept–have a real-live standard (college readiness) and ask schools to aim at getting all kids to it by graduation. That will require making the most rapid progress for the students who are furthest behind. Since those kids are more likely to be poor and from minority groups, it makes subgroup accountability per se unnecessary. (Though the Administration’s guidelines still require it.)

3. Subjects beyond reading and math will count again. Seven of the states are taking the opportunity to expand the subjects included in their accountability systems. Colorado will look at writing, science, and ACT results; Florida will add writing and science; Georgia will include science and social studies for grades 3-8 and a whole suite of exit exams for high school; Kentucky and Oklahoma add science, social studies, and writing; and Massachusetts and Tennessee will both add science to the mix. This should be helpful in counteracting the narrowing of the curriculum.

These are “sensible alternatives” that should be endorsed by the Education Department, Petrilli writes.



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  1. 1) No one who works in a classroom seriously believes that it is possible for all students to achieve the level of proficent. Some students can’t, and some students won’t. There has never been a magical time when all kids were proficient and graduated high school. It reminds me of the District Office “coach” who told us with a straight face that the goal was to raise all student’s scores to above average.

    2) The idea of making all students college ready is part of the problem. There is a huge percentage of our kids who have no interest, intention, or reason to be college ready. Instead we need to develop programs that provide these kids with life and job skills that will allow them to be successful without college. Bringing back true vocational ed programs would be a big help here.

    3) I once had a principal that demanded that core teachers (Math/Science and English/History not open their science and history books all year, and instead use the time to teach English and Math instead. I strongly endorse making schools accountable for all subjects.

  2. “…who told us with a straight face that the goal was to raise all student’s scores to above average….”

    Welcome to Lake Wobegon?

    I suspect that you’re inference is correct, and we’re talking about a person who was unclear on the subject, but it is possible to set a goal of having a certain class or body of students “all be above average” by an outside measure, such as average performance of students in that particular subject on a particular statewide, national, international or standardized test.