Inside the Law

Inside the Law

Legal issues at national, state and local levels

Ten States Allowed to Use Growth Models to Calculate AYP

In November, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced a pilot program to let up to 10 states use growth models to determine Adequate Yearly Progress. Many states and lobbyists have requested this approach.

"We've been strongly advocating that states be allowed to measure individual children accurately and to show student growth as an indicator of a school's effectiveness," says Allan Olson, executive director for Northwest Evaluation Association, a provider of testing services to more than 1,800 districts. "The current AYP is one indicator but far from sufficient, given the conseqauences."

To qualify for the praogram, states must meet certain core requirements, including the following: the state's NCLB assessment system must have been operational for more than one year and must receive approval through the NCLB peer review process for the 2005-06 school year.

Ross Wiener, policy director at The Education Trust, an organization charged with closing the achievement gaps in public education, is cautiously optimistic about this new model. "The growth models that states put in place before NCLB didn't reflect that bedrock expectation that all students were going to get that education," says Wiener. "More often, states used past performance as a predictor of current or future performance." Looking at growth alone won't show if a student has met the state's standards. Wiener says the most useful plan would be growth blended with the absolute level of achievement. Above all, he wants to ensure we can distinguish schools that, while still near the bottom, have made progress.

Steve Peha, president of education consultancy Teaching That Makes Sense, says it's ironic to call this new aspect of NCLB a growth model when the reason for its existence is that growth isn't happening. He says it's valuable to have testing as a means of measurement, but that it is a huge mistake to connect it to standards and curriculum: Everyone teaches to the test.

Still, states are eager to participate. Oregon and Nevada have both expressed interest in applying to the pilot program. Doug Thunder, deputy superintendent of administrative and fiscal services for the Nevada Department of Education, says his state wants to recognize any progress schools make, even if it's small. The current system hasn't allowed for that.

"I can't think of a more important element of NCLB to examine than this one," says Olson. "It's a huge step in the right direction." www.ed.gov

Ongoing Changes in Calculating AYP

  • 45 states now use confidence intervals.
  • The Department of Education has approved retesting, where students retake a different version of the same test and their best scores are used for AYP.
  • The department also approved an increase in minimum subgroup sizes, which means that in many schools, subgroups do not get counted for AYP purposes.

A new Center on Education Policy report shows that states are continuing to change the way they calculate AYP. Today, nearly every state has its own method of determining AYP, resulting in a lot of confusion. Here are a few of the report's findings:

www.cep-dc.org

NCLB and Teacher Contracts

In districts across the U.S., teachers are concerned about losing their jobs due to NCLB. In fact, teachers at the Oregon Trail District 46 in Sandy, Ore., recently went on strike over contract language related to the law.

"Both my board and I feel very obligated and dedicated to making sure that NCLB is alive in our district," says Oregon Trail Superintendent Clementina Salinas. "It's the only way students have the opportunity to really witness or experience excellent education." Salinas says she is disappointed the contract negotiations ended in a strike that was all about "transfers, evaluation, abilities and management rights." At press time, the teachers were still fighting to gain management rights that, according to Salinas, would impede her from implementing transfers and evaluations dictated by NCLB.

Salinas says, above all, a superintendent's obligation is to the children, not to the teachers. "Teachers are employees who vowed, when they got out of school, to serve children. And the unions are there for their own business."

"Are we going to allow the unions to mandate what we can and can't do as far as management or abide by our own government?" asks Salinas.

Reggie Felton, director of federal relations for the National School Boards Association, acknowledges that NCLB is a growing concern in terms of contract negotiations but adds teacher performance and evaluation should already be in place and not tied directly to performance required by NCLB. "We've always encouraged the board and the superintendent to have these kinds of discussions with teachers and principals prior to contract negotiation," says Felton. "If you have these kinds of chats regularly, everyone will be on board when contract negotiation time comes around."

Three States Create One Assessment Test

In the first alliance of its kind, three separate states--Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont--developed one reading and math assessment exam. The New England Common Assessment Program got its start in Rhode Island, when the Department of Education grew concerned about the cost of expanding its assessment, which evaluated only one grade. Rhode Island reached out to other New England states and in early 2002, began to collaborate with New Hampshire and Vermont.

The first, and perhaps most time-consuming, step was unifying all three states' math and language arts standards. At the same time, the states figured out what type of assessment they wanted. Along the way, they hired Measured Progress, a test developer in Dover, N.H.

"Based on our previous work with state consortiums, I thought it would be a problem to get all three states to agree on anything," says Stuart Kahl, CEO of Measured Progress. To Kahl's delight, however, the states easily agreed on shared content standards and grade-level expectations.

This fall, third- through eighth-grade students in all three states took the test. "It went really well, considering it was the first time with a new testing system," says Elliot Krieger of the R.I. Dept. of Ed.

Michael L. Hock, director of assessment for the Vermont education department, is equally pleased. "Initially, we did this to save money," he says. "As a small state, it would be daunting to create a custom-designed assessment at all those levels with the available resources."

Hock was particularly impressed with both the level of teacher involvement and the commitment to making the test accessible to everyone. After teachers from all three states established the grade-level expectations, they reviewed every test question. "We considered all the different students and made choices that would be right for everyone, including fonts, the amount of white space, the right graphics for students with visual impairments," says Hock.

www.ed.state.nh.us, www.state.vt.us/educ/, www.ridoe.net/, www.measuredprogress.org

Principals Make NCLB Suggestions

The National Association of Secondary School Principals' 15-member NCLB task force has made 21 recommendations to make NCLB "a more consistent, fair and flexible law." Made up of urban, rural and suburban leaders, the task force looked into the differences between the federal law and state plans as well as the differences from state to state in terms of AYP, special ed and data, assessment and teaching. At the end of October, the task force presented its recommendations to Congress. "It was the opportunity of a lifetime to work with principals throughout the country," says Denise Greene-Wilkinson, principal of the Polaris K-12 School in Anchorage, and a co-chair of the task force.

  • Lack of a highly qualified teacher should not be grounds for litigation.
  • States should calculate AYP for each student subgroup on the basis of state-developed growth formulas that calculate growth in individual student achievement from year to year.
  • The scores of English-language learners should not be used in the determination of AYP until these students have developed language proficiency, as evidenced by a research-based and state-approved assessment.
  • All public schools, charter schools and non-public schools receiving federal funds should be required to use the same state assessment and meet the same state criteria for determining AYP.

Here are a few of the recommendations:

-Lack of a highly qualified teacher should not be grounds for litigation.

-States should calculate AYP for each student subgroup on the basis of state-developed growth formulas that calculate growth in individual student achievement from year to year.

-The scores of English-language learners should not be used in the determination of AYP until these students have developed language proficiency, as evidenced by a research-based and state-approved assessment.

-All public schools, charter schools and non-public schools receiving federal funds should be required to use the same state assessment and meet the same state criteria for determining AYP.

www.principals.org/nclb

A Highly Qualified Teacher in Every Classroom

Since NCLB was passed, the Department of Education has collected and analyzed data on teacher accountability. Here are some of the findings:

5 states--Calif., Fla., N.J., N.Y., and Texas--produce 38% of the nation's teachers.

39 states require a content-specific bachelor's degree for at least one of their initial certificates.

15 states still have no content area bachelor's degree requirements for any of their initial certificates or licenses.

3.5% of teachers are on waivers.

20 teacher education programs are designated as low performing, down from 25 in 2003.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, 2005


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