Fixing the Flaw in the ‘Growth Model’
And Helping Schools, States, and NCLB in the Process
Almost from the day the federal No Child Left Behind Act became law in 2002, educators, parents, and others have been calling for more flexibility in the way it allows states to assess student achievement. Over the years, that call has only grown louder: Eighty-two percent of Americans in last year’s Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll said that they wanted schools rated on the improvement students make during the year, rather than on the percentage who meet the state standard at the end of the year.
Policymakers have heeded the message—or at least part of it. In 2005, the U.S. Department of Education allowed up to 10 states to pilot assessment systems based on “growth models” that measure students’ progress toward standards, in contrast to the pass-fail assessments originally required by NCLB. Last December, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings opened the growth-model pilot to all eligible states, greatly expanding access not only to a more equitable accountability system, but also to a richer stream of information that schools and educators can use to address the needs of their students.
But, please, let’s hold our applause—we’re not there yet. For while the expanded pilot lets more states develop their own growth models, it still requires those models to incorporate the traditional grade-level assessments. As long as this language is in place, the growth-model pilot will be laboring under a fundamental flaw: using an instrument designed to give static information about a relatively narrow slice of the achievement spectrum to measure a much broader range...
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