Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 20, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

VALUE-ADDED SCHOOL TESTING....In light of recent reports that the No Child Left Behind Act seems to have had little effect on student test scores, it's worth taking at look at problems with NCLB that even its supporters agree need to be addressed. One of them is NCLB's reliance on a single "one size fits all" set of standards for all students, a problem that Tom Toch explains in the October Monthly:

Educators in impoverished neighborhoods argue that the law's criteria for school success don't sufficiently take into account of how immensely far behind many of their students are when they start school. Educators and parents in affluent communities, where students routinely score above state standards, have a different complaint: that the NCLB accountability system is leading to a dumbing down of their schools' curricula. Many testing experts, meanwhile, point out that NCLB creates a host of perverse incentives, including encouraging states to set their academic standards low to reduce the number of their schools labeled failing under the law the opposite of what NCLB's authors intended.

What's the answer? According to Sandy Kress, a Texas school reformer who was one of the original guiding lights behind NCLB, a better method is something called "value added," the system used in the Dallas School District:

Dallas, by contrast, measures individual student progress from a relative starting point. It compares a pupil's current test scores with the same pupil's scores a year earlier. A school in Dallas wins a high rating if its students on average score higher than would have been predicted based on those same students' prior level of achievement and if the school's performance overall is better than that of other schools with the same demographics. It earns a low rating if its students perform worse than would have been predicted.

....The value added school-rating metric provides a more accurate picture of which schools are actually educating their students well. It is also fairer to schools and teachers working with the most disadvantaged kids. It pressures them to perform without penalizing them for taking on the hardest assignments in education. Conversely, the system doesn't reward rich schools with privileged students merely for standing still. Passing the state test, an easy task for many of their students, is not good enough.

The technology to implement a value-added system is fairly complex, but Kress believes it's now at a point where it could be widely and accurately implemented across the nation. Combining value-added metrics with the current standards-based metrics, he believes, would produce a system that motivates the best possible teaching while also being fairer to students. Value-added metrics "ought to be one of the central improvements made to NCLB when it's reauthorized in two years," he says.

It's an intriguing article for those of us who don't keep up with the nitty gritty of school testing regimes. Worth reading.

Kevin Drum 2:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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