Thursday, March 19, 2009

FAQ: How does NCLB count math and reading?

Reader Mary Rudd asked:
When we say we will only "count" NCLB areas of reading and math, are we saying that we will only look at the proficiency numbers for targeted populations or are we saying that we will look at all students' results in math and reading? Perhaps I have not taken the time to read carefully enough, but I haven't seen an explanation of what is actually meant by that portion of the decision.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, school have annual objectives in reading and math only. The objectives are defined as the percent of students who reach the proficient level, with no credit for students who are at any lower level. Schools have to reach the objective for all students and for disaggregated groups--meaning white students, African-American students, Hispanic students, Asian students, students in the free-and-reduced lunch program, students with limited English proficiency, and students with disabilities.

Do notice that under those rules, the only thing that counts is getting a student past the proficiency mark. There's no credit for getting student close to proficiency but not quite there, and no credit for any further improvement once students reach proficiency. The incentive is to sort students into three groups--already proficient, nearly proficient, and far from proficient--and focus on only on the middle group that's already near the mark.

Kentucky's accountability model has been better than that, with partial credit for each step closer to proficience and extra credit for moving students to distinguished. That means the incentive is to help every child make progress every day--which is also the right thing to do.

For 2009, 2010, and 2011, Kentucky will use only NCLB accountability. Many teachers will ignore the incentives and continue helping all students, but do notice that the system is designed to discourage that.


  1. Susan,

    The all-or-nothing character of NCLB is a problem that has been raised elsewhere. I think many of our teachers are good enough to avoid a short period of the sort of temptations you mention, however.

    On the other hand, CATS had absolutely no penalties for gaps, while NCLB does. Because of the way the old CATS accountability index worked, a significant proportion of minority students could get left behind before a school was seriously dragged down to the point that it would face sanctions, even in 2014.

    So there were problems with both assessments.

    Perhaps when we get our new assessment program fleshed out, we can come up with a way to address both issues. Maybe something like an Accountability Index idea supplemented with minimum gap improvement requirements that work like the CATS Novice reduction requirement would meet this need.

    Any other ideas?

  2. How about an Index for each group, with a statistical "cushion" that reflects understanding that group size could affect the quality of the data? Each group should be reaching the school goal, except for getting different cushions. That would turn the heat up very high, but consequences could be modulated around the main expectation.

    Something in that vicinity might let us get back to having one set of goals in place of three. For NCLB, we'd need a federal waiver, but it would make a good application. For SB 168, schools and districts could just agree that the state-set goal is their local goal--or we could amend the law to eliminate the goal setting process and simplify school's work.


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