07/19/05 — Grading Schools - Making sense out of ABC and NCLB

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Grading Schools - Making sense out of ABC and NCLB

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 19, 2005 1:48 PM

Measuring student achievement used to be merely a matter of grade point averages, attendance and graduation days.

Now, with the arrival of the federal legislation, No Child Left Behind(NCLB), school systems have had to consider many more measuring sticks and the penalties that can accompany falling short.

Much of the frustration comes from the array of standardized tests required each year to measure student and school progress. Even educators admit they feel the pressure of keeping up and then being measured.

“It was confusing enough when we just had the ABCs (the state’s accountability model),” said Dr. Craig McFadden, assistant superintendent for accountability/student services for Wayne County Public Schools.

“Now we have two conflicting models, the ABCs and No Child Left Behind. Same students, same tests, but sometimes come up with very different answers to the question, ‘Is this school doing a good job?’”

How the data is analyzed makes all the difference, he said. In the elementary and middle grades, students must be at or above grade level to progress to the next grade. At the high school level, they must be at or above proficiency level.

Results of the end-of-grade tests, are expected to be officially announced by the state in early August, McFadden said, but preliminary scores could be released sooner.

Figuring out how to interpret their meaning can be a challenge, he said.

The ABC model has been mandated by the state since 1996-97. Currently, according to the N.C. Public Schools Web site, there are about 35 state tests given to measure proficiency in the younger grades, course knowledge in high school, progress for accountability purposes and alternative assessments for students in other categories, such as those with disabilities.

While each is important, the one that seemingly supercedes them all was handed down through federal legislation in 2002, when President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act into effect.

There are significant differences between the two models, McFadden said.

Simply put, he said, both measure student performance. The ABC model also measures growth made from the previous year.

No Child Left Behind focuses on the success of the entire school, with test scores divided so that the school is assessed according to results from 10 subgroups: All students, American Indian, Asian, black, Hispanic, multiracial, white, economically disadvantaged, limited English proficient and students with disabilities.

Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is required under the tenets of NCLB as a way to measure school performance. To meet AYP, a school must meet target goals for each subgroup with 40 or more students.

The target goals are set annually by the state for reading and mathematics at grades 3-8 and 10, and for attendance and graduation rates.

AYP is an all-or-nothing model, a pass/fail, McFadden said. If even one subgroup in a school does not pass the test, neither does the school. The long-term goal of AYP is to have every school at 100 percent proficiency by the school year 2013-14.

In 2003-04, McFadden said, 13 of Wayne County’s 31 schools made AYP, attaining 100 percent of their goals. Only four of the 13 had sufficient numbers of Students with Disabilities to include that subgroup in the model. If the other nine successful schools had contained sufficient numbers to include their Students with Disabilities subgroup, they would not have made AYP, he said.

“By its very definition, many of those students in this subgroup have substandard academic performance,” McFadden said.

The same holds true for those enrolled in the school system’s English as a Second Language program, he added. These students are unable to speak the language, yet are expected to test as well as those who do.

AYP, McFadden said, is not necessarily the best way to determine if a school’s students are progressing at an acceptable level.

“The goal is great,” he said. “Who doesn’t want every child to be on grade level? The problem is accomplishing it, through no fault of their own or the teachers.”

The frustration comes from the broad concept of “expected growth.” McFadden has an illustration he uses to describe how the different models work.

“It really boils down to a very simple analogy,” he said.

“You take your kid every birthday, put him next to the door jam, see how tall he is and mark a line.

“Next year, make another mark and see how much he’s grown during the year. That’s basically how the ABC program works.”

The mark represents the test scores at the end of one year, then following over the next year before measuring again to see how much the student has grown and compare that with how much he was expected to grow during the year.

“The bottom line is, it doesn’t matter if the child is forever going to be a very tall child or is forever going to be a very short child, never reaching his potential,” he said. “The important thing is, did the child benefit from a year’s worth of achievement?”

By contrast, he said, the No Child Left Behind model measures longitudinal growth. Imagine going to that same door jam and making another mark.

“It says, ‘This is how tall we expect a third grader, for example, to be,’” McFadden said. “Then they put that child up to the mark. He’s either taller or shorter than the mark.

“It doesn’t matter how much the child’s grown during the year, if he’s a bright child. It doesn’t matter if he’s short or going to have problems in school. It’s pass or fail, above or below that mark.”

With the announcement of this year’s test results, school status labels will also be assigned. Recognition will be based on the percent of students scoring at or above grade level and whether or not the schools met expected or high growth.

•Schools with 90-100 percent scoring at or above grade level, meeting AYP and making expected growth, are classified as Honor Schools of Excellence; School making expected or high growth but not AYP are considered Schools of Excellence.

•Schools with 80-89 percent of students scoring at or above grade level, making expected or high growth and meeting AYP, are Schools of Distinction.

•Schools with 60-79 percent of student scoring at or above grade level, making expected or high growth and meeting AYP, are Schools of Progress.

Any of the above making less than expected growth, however, will receive no recognition.

•A Priority School is any school with 50-59 percent of students at or above grade level, whether or not expected growth is achieved.

•Those with less than 50 percent at or above grade level, making less than expected growth, are also considered a Priority School but are also low-performing. That means the school is subject to statutory requirements such as parental notification and state assistance.