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Midvale School for the Gifted Alumni Association

Monday, November 21, 2005

Education Alphabet Soup: AYP, NCLB, MCAS = Recipe for Disaster

Recently, my state's annual student assesment scores were released. According to this Boston Globe article, scores are on the decline. The article states that Commissioner David Driscoll was so disappointed in the state's performance this year, that he simply released the results with a memo, rather than his usual press conference. Yet in this speech, Secretary Margaret Spellings is praising Massachusetts for leading the pack in meeting the requirements of No Child Left Behind. In fact, she goes on to talk about "Dave Driscoll" as being "a pioneer" and "relentless in his fight to close the achievement gap". And he's hanging his head in shame. Huh.

Here's the problem, and I'll let a quote from the article start it off:
One problem is that the tests aren't comparing apples to apples. The ratings, even those that rely on the MCAS, don't judge schools and school systems by the same standards.

The state annually reports how students in grades three, eight, and 10 perform on MCAS, giving parents and educators a simple way to judge their schools and districts. But MCAS is used differently when the state reports progress under federal requirements. Under the three-year-old No Child Left Behind Act, schools and school systems are judged on more than just their scores; they're measured on whether they're improving fast enough. They are also rated on how well they're doing with specific groups of students, such as minorities and those in special education. (source).

Here's another problem, and it specifically relates to the subgroups of students--all humans learn at different rates. Students with disabilities learn at a different pace than their peers without disabilities, yet these tests are requiring that someone with a third-grade acadamic ability perform and be counted with his or her sixth grade peers. Or tenth. I'm not saying we shouldn't measure progress; we absolutely need to be accountable to our students' learning. The system is inherently flawed. A study of statistics regarding performance in human populations will tell you that it is impossible to achieve 100% mastery in a human population. Yet this is the goal of NCLB. It astounds me. The federal government is also very fond of telling schools that they have not met their Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) targets, but school district after school district will tell you that they have NO IDEA what that target is. Each year they get these aggregates of scores, some of which show gains in student subgroups from previous years, yet next to those columns noting the gains is another column stating "No" regarding AYP. Well, what the hell is it? Two percentage points? Ten? One hundred? No one knows. And yes, it's different for each district, but each individual district is not told how much they need to increase by the next year; they're only told if they didn't get there?

How would that strategy work in our classrooms? "No Johnny, I can't tell you how many test questions you need to get right to pass my test, but I will tell you that you failed this one. Of course you can have your test back. See, you got this one, this one, and this one wrong. No, I won't share with you the formula I used to calculate your grade. Just know that you failed."
Does that make any sense? Of course not, but that's what happens every fall in districts across this country. I've seen the reports.

Then of course, the state tells schools they have to provide tutoring for underperforming students, but you can't work with the students because your school didn't meet AYP. You have to contract out for those services, as mandated by federal law, and since you didn't meet AYP, you have significantly less money with which to purchase those services. Oh, and there's absolutely no accountability system for those outside agencies, which further heightens the problem. Are you confused yet? Because we are. We teachers and administrators feel like Sisyphus, pushing that rock up the hill for eternity, only to have it roll back down over us just before we reach the top.

The plan isn't working, and it's punishing good schools doing great work with children.

2 Comments:

Blogger trusty getto said...

[bowing down before you]

Amen.

10:29 PM  
Blogger Easy said...

NCLB is an abomination. It has placed too much of a burden on school districts that are already struggling.

Man, it pisses me off!

11:33 AM  

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