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School Accountability Plan on Collision Course with NCLB, PAR Says

School Accountability Plan on Collision Course with NCLB, PAR Says

Posted: 05/05/2004

A potential collision between slowing student improvement and accelerating achievement goals spells serious problems for school accountability, the Public Affairs Research Council (PAR) said in its report “Close-up on Education Accountability” released today. “In addition, new federal rules for improving the performance of student subgroups could seriously damage the state’s accountability system within a few years,” said Jim Brandt, PAR president.

The fourth in a series of annual reports monitoring the implementation of the state’s school and district accountability plan, this report raises some concerns about the impact of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). NCLB requires a highly qualified teacher in every classroom by 2006; additional standards-based testing by 2006; annual yearly progress (AYP) for all student subgroups and schools; a goal of having allstudents performing at the proficient level by 2014; and sanctions for failing schools, including school choice (transfers), supplemental services (tutoring) and restructuring or alternative governance.

Louisiana is among the states that have “backloaded” their performance growth targets to require more growth in the later years, hoping the goal will be lowered in the interim. Louisiana’s improvement schedule requires subgroups to grow 5.8% a year on average from 2002 to 2010, but at an average rate of 14.6% each of the next four years to reach the 2014 goal.

The 2003 scores again show some improvement. But while K-8 schools are slightly ahead of their growth target, their rate of growth has slowed considerably. High school scores have not risen as rapidly as expected and are short of their target. The combined score for all schools grew only 1.1% in the last year. The current progress offers little hope that the steep increases in performance expected between 2010 and 2014 can actually be met.

By far, the most significant change to Louisiana’s accountability system is the NCLB requirement that schools demonstrate adequate yearly progress (AYP) for each student subgroup toward reaching the goal of proficiency by 2014. The subgroups include economically disadvantaged students; students in major racial and ethnic groups; and students with disabilities.

NCLB rules provide several ways to lessen the impact of poor subgroup performance on a school’s rating. Louisiana uses a statistical technique called “confidence interval” that can be applied to subgroup testing results, making it easier for smaller subgroups to pass AYP. When new tests are added in 2006, more students in each subgroup will be tested, and the confidence interval will no longer be as effective in saving schools from failing AYP.

Currently, only 69 schools statewide are in school improvement level 2 or higher and are subject to the more serious sanctions. PAR estimates that by the 2007-08 school year, this number could potentially grow to 800 schools, as AYP scoring becomes more stringent and confidence intervals become less effective. Having nearly three-quarters of schools considered as failing would require a major shifting of scarce resources and may destroy public confidence in the accountability program and public school system.

In spite of the problems on the horizon, Louisiana has generally benefited from the changes due to the NCLB mandates. New annual tests will allow better tracking of student progress; schools are focusing greater attention on student subgroups; and existing efforts to improve teacher quality have been energized. Some of the more troublesome rules are being relaxed, but further changes will need to be made as the 2014 deadline grows closer. A revision in the NCLB goals could occur earlier, depending on presidential politics.

Louisiana’s School and District Accountability System, now in its sixth year, was recently ranked first in the nation by the national publication Education Week. Yet, students in the fourth and eighth grades ranked at the bottom of the nation in mathematics and reading on the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams. “The progress to date merits continuation of the state’s accountability system,” Brandt said. “But the slow performance growth experienced in recent years suggests that stronger reforms are required to meet the state’s performance goals.”


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