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Spellings Announces Alternative for Measuring State Progress

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As many as 10 states will be able to use so-called “growth models” this school year to evaluate the success of their schools and districts in meeting student achievement goals under the No Child Left Behind Act, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced here today.

Speaking to the Council of Chief State School Officers at their annual policy forum, Ms. Spellings said she would approve plans that track individual student test scores from year to year and assure that all students are on track toward being proficient in reading and mathematics by the 2013-14 school year.

States must apply for the program by Feb. 17 if they want to use the new evaluation methods for the current school year. To be eligible for the pilot, states must have given tests in each of grades 3-8 and high school in reading and mathematics for more than one year.

At least half of the states won’t be eligible for the pilot program, she added, because they don’t have test-score data in grades 3-8 from the 2004-05 school year.

Since becoming secretary of education in January, Ms. Spellings has made it a priority to create what she calls common-sense solutions for states and districts as they implement the federal law, which President Bush signed in 2002.

With the growth-model proposal, Ms. Spellings said she wants to give states a new option for determining whether a school or district is making adequate yearly progress toward meeting the law’s goal that all students are proficient by 2013-14 in reading and math.

The growth models would allow states to declare schools and districts as making AYP if the schools can prove individual students made progress toward proficiency. The current method requires states to make AYP determinations based on whether a certain percentage of students score at or above the proficient level on state tests in any given year.

Rigorous Standards

To qualify for the new pilot program, Ms. Spellings said, states still must promise that schools would evaluate whether students in all demographic and ethnic subgroups outlined in the No Child Left Behind law are demonstrating test-score growth.

And that growth must be significant, she added. If a student starts the year behind grade level, he or she must show progress greater than one year of instruction, she told the audience here.

“We’re not just looking for any level of improvement,” she said. “When a student is behind, one year of progress for every year of instruction will not be enough to close the gap.”

The high standard is necessary to head off criticisms that the new approach is an attempt to make it easier for schools and districts to meet AYP goals, the secretary said.

“It has to be very rigorous and withstand a lot of scrutiny,” she said. “We do not want to have a wishy-washy approach” that allows critics to say “it left kids behind.”

Reactions to the announcement were swift and varied.

California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell welcomed the change, noting in a written statement that his state has used a growth model, the Academic Performance Index, since 1999.

“I am glad to see the federal government’s recognition of the validity of a growth model to measure improved student achievement,” he said. “While we are looking forward to receiving more specific information about the criteria the federal government will apply, California will attempt to take advantage of this new and welcome flexibility.”

Others cited concerns about how the pilot will be implemented and the possible results.

Kati Haycock, the director of the Education Trust, a Washington-based group that advocates for improved schools serving low-income and minority students, called for the process and results “to be fully transparent and that the pilot be limited to only a few states.

“This can’t be about using growth models to let schools, districts, and states off the hook,” she said in a written statement.

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