Accountability is a good thing, right? Those in the business sector are accountable for their results, so public education should be as well, right? And to be accountable, we have to look at outcomes that can be measured, right? Right, right and right. But No Child Left Behind created a number of problems when it took standardized test scores and ascribed significance to them beyond what any educator ever intended.
Problem One: No Child Left Behind legislation selected one way to hold schools and schools districts accountable – scores on standardized tests. While these test scores do provide important information about student achievement, they do not tell the whole story. These tests are given to students in grades 2-11 in early May each year and we receive the results in mid-August, so with such a long turn-around time, the results hold less meaning for the classroom teacher and student.
It makes much more sense to “measure what matters,” which is much more than test scores, and includes attendance, student wellness, parent satisfaction, teacher professional development, participation in after-school or extracurricular programs, and a myriad of other things.
Problem Two: The federal system of accountability under NCLB, unlike the California system, set the bar for ALL students to be proficient or advanced on standardized test (in English and Math) by the year 2014 which has truly set up a system of frustration for educators – “ALL” students would include special needs students and students who are learning English as a second language. We certainly should be sure these students become proficient in English and Math, but it may take more time than is allotted under NCLB legislation. The accountability system in California, which employs a growth model is a much more effective. Schools, districts and subgroups of students are given targets each year based on the previous year’s performance. This is sound educational practice, and based on research that supports and rewards continuous improvement based on realistic objectives.
In fact, California Secretary of Education Tom Torlakson recently announced that a record 49% of California schools met or exceeded the state’s growth target, up from 46% last year. He found particularly impressive, given the severe budget cuts that have had such an adverse impact on school finances in these last few years. In fact, in the state’s system, the numbers of schools meeting their growth targets have increased in each of the last nine years. This is the kind of steady, measurable progress that all educators can work to achieve while still providing the kind of classroom instruction geared toward teaching the skills that our students need.
Problem Three: NCLB imposes sanctions on schools that are making steady progress but that do not have all students meeting the proficiency standards. There is no research to show that these sanctions are in the best interests of the students that they are supposed to protect. It is a one size fits all punitive approach that applies to schools that have made remarkable progress as well as to schools that are making no progress at all.
In Sonoma Valley Unified, we have a commitment to making decisions based on data that shows what is in the best interests of our students. It is important that we continue to look at the progress of all subgroups of students; making sure we are meeting their needs. We are making excellent progress and we have developed systems that ensure that we build on our successes while we also look hard at what we can be doing better or differently. These decisions are made based on student data that is much more comprehensive than the results of a standardized test. Clearly, this is the way toward improvement.
Next week: The Ugly… Stay tuned!