2 States Selected for ‘Growth Model’ Pilot

By Christina A. Samuels & Michelle R. Davis — May 23, 2006 4 min read

The Department of Education last week chose North Carolina and Tennessee as the first states for a pilot program that will allow them to measure adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind Act based on the academic growth that students show from year to year.

Such programs are called growth models. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced in November that as many as 10 states would be allowed to participate in the pilot program.

Approved State Models

The Department of Education last week selected the first states that will be allowed to use a “growth model” to determine adequate yearly progress for schools under the No Child Left Behind Act. Growth models allow schools to receive credit for improving the performance of individual students, even if those students fall short of the target set for them.

North Carolina: A four-year growth trajectory, with a student’s first tested year in the state as a baseline, will be calculated for all nonproficient students. Should the student meet intermediate targets within the trajectory, he or she will be classified as proficient within four years in the tested grades. (The Education Department’s approval of North Carolina’s application is provisional, pending a review of its accountability system that is separate from the growth-model review process.)

Tennessee: Individual student-projection data will determine the proportion of students, by subgroup and subject area, who are projected to attain proficiency on the state assessment three years into the future. If a student is on track to meet proficiency by the end of three school years, he or she would be counted as proficient for purposes of calculating adequate yearly progress.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education

The No Child Left Behind law mandates that all students must be proficient on state tests by the 2013-14 school year. To make adequate yearly progress, districts and schools must meet annual targets for the percent of students who score at least “proficient” on state tests, both for the student population as a whole and for certain subgroups of students, such as students with disabilities, members of minority groups, and students with limited English skills.

Under a growth model, schools may be able to make AYP even if they do not meet the annual targets, if the schools can show that students who scored below the proficient level have made significant gains over the course of the school year. Both states selected will use a growth model in conjunction with the current evaluation system and the federal law’s “safe harbor” provision. Safe harbor permits schools to make AYP if they reduce the number of nonproficient students in the subgroup that missed its target from the previous year by 10 percent.

“This is simply a different way to understand the progress that is being made,” Ms. Spellings said in a May 17 lunch with reporters. “It is potentially… equally as rigorous, and it might be as good of a way as the static method to calculate student achievement—or not. We’re going to find out.”

North Carolina’s acceptance into the pilot program is provisional, pending an evaluation of its state assessment program that is separate from the growth-model pilot.

Twenty states applied for the program, and proposals from eight states were forwarded to a panel of reviewers appointed by the department. Eric A. Hanushek, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the head of the review panel, said in a conference call with reporters that both models chosen were well designed and offered strong approaches for meeting the goal under NCLB of full student proficiency by the 2013-14 school year.

Deadline Intact

The six states that were not approved—Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, and Oregon—will have a chance to digest comments and suggestions from the review panel and resubmit their applications in September for the 2006-07 school year, the department said. In November, other states will have a chance to submit their own growth-model proposals for whichever of the 10 total slots that remain.

Mr. Hanushek said that a major factor in evaluating the plans submitted by the states was that they must have proposed to get all students to proficiency by the NCLB deadline of 2014. Some models were rejected because not enough students would meet that final goal.

“I think everybody would have liked to have more variation in the models that were available,” Mr. Hanushek said. “There were very stringent rules set to ensure this wasn’t just a way for people to get around the idea that all students must be proficient by 2014.”

The programs offered by North Carolina and Tennessee use projections that compare a student’s current scores to where they need to be in future years. A school where students are making steady progress toward proficiency would not be penalized if the student doesn’t meet AYP benchmarks.

‘Rigorous’ Approach

Neither of the approved states suggested that growth models would have made a difference for most of their schools that did not make AYP last school year. In North Carolina, officials estimated that an additional 40 schools out of 932 that missed the standard would have made AYP. In Tennessee, the growth model would have meant an additional 47 schools out of 353 that missed the federal standard would have made AYP in the 2004-05 school year, according to state officials.

“This is rigorous,” said Cory Curl, the director of policy and planning for the Tennessee education department. “This is not an easy way out at all.”

Lou Fabrizio, the director of accountability services for the North Carolina department of public instruction, said that state officials were pleased to be approved for the pilot. Since the 1996-97 school year, North Carolina has tracked students’ test scores and looked at individual growth to determine whether schools are meeting achievement expectations, he said.

“For 10 years, we’ve been talking about the importance of growth,” he said. “When No Child Left Behind came along, it seemed natural that we would want to continue to talk about how growth impacts AYP.”

But some state officials were disappointed with the department’s evaluation process.

Valerie A. Woodruff, Delaware’s education secretary, said that even though her state advanced far in the process for considering the growth-model proposals, Delaware may end up not pursuing the option.

Though education officials there “very much believe [a growth model] is the way AYP ought to be calculated,” Ms. Woodruff said she was frustrated that the Education Department-appointed reviewers asked only one minor question before rejecting the state’s proposal.

“We’ve been told if we want to go next year we’re on the fast track, but we need to think about whether or not it’s worth the effort,” she said.

A version of this article appeared in the May 24, 2006 edition of Education Week as 2 States Selected for ‘Growth Model’ Pilot


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