Friday, October 10, 2014

EdTrust: Kentucky Accountability Signals Are Weak on Achievement Gaps

"Average math proficiency rates of African American students at schools earning a Distinguished rating are lower than average math proficiency rates of white students in Needs Improvement schools."
"Similarly, between 2012 and 2013 in Kentucky, reading proficiency rates for African American students declined at about 40 percent of Distinguished schools with data for this group. Math proficiency rates fell at about the same share of top-rated schools."

Both the chart and the quotes are from a new Education Trust report, "Making Sure all Children Matter: Getting School Accountability Signals Right."  In Kentucky, Florida, and Minnesota, EdTrust checked whether strong ratings school like "Distinguished" reflected strong achievement for students from historically under-served groups.  In all three states, they found good reason for concern that "a high rating despite low performance for some groups paints a false picture of success and allows schools to overlook some students."

I join EdTrust in counting this issue as very important, and I want to add two Kentucky-specific thoughts.

No, the Gap Group does not ensure good signals about results for Kentucky's minority students. In Kentucky's accountability system, a school's overall score includes separate attention to a Gap Group that combines students with low family incomes, disabilities, limited English proficiency, and minority backgrounds.  However, because Kentucky has so many low-income (free/reduced meal) students, results for that one group dominate the combined results. Groups with weaker results than the low-income group effectively disappear.  You can see the disappearance happening in my recent PrichBlog post on "2014 Achievement Gaps," showing that the Gap score matches what's happening for low-income students and hides what's happening for the others. So, no, the Gap Group does not signal the importance of results for other groups of under-served students.

No, the rules on "Focus Schools" do not ensure good signals about results for minority students. Yes, Kentucky's accountability regulation says that if a school has a student subgroup with results like the bottom 1% of students statewide, it must be identified as a Focus School.  And yes, the regulation says that Focus Schools cannot be rated as Distinguished.  But in 2013, the Kentucky Department of Education decided not to follow those rules.  So, no, the Focus School rules do not reliably signal major gap problems. And also, no, major gap problems do not exclude Kentucky schools from being publicly identified as Distinguished.

EdTrust's report concludes:
Our hope is that this analysis will prompt policymakers, advocates, and educators to put equity squarely back on the table in each and every conversation about accountability. The Secretary of Education can re-start that focus by making group performance matter in the upcoming waiver renewal process.
I second that hope and add that the Kentucky Board of Education has independent authority to ensure that all children matter in Kentucky accountability, with or without Secretary Duncan's prodding.

--Posted By Susan Perkins Weston

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