Federal

Education Department Convenes Working Group on ‘Growth’ Models

By Lynn Olson — July 12, 2005 3 min read
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The U.S. Department of Education is exploring options for measuring progress under the No Child Left Behind Act that are based on how much academic growth individual students show over time, according to attendees of the first meeting of a working group on such models.

“My sense was that they are very serious about it, and they’re looking at a range of options,” Jim Mahoney, the executive director of Battelle for Kids, said of department officials. His nonprofit group, based in Columbus, Ohio, is working with some 115 districts in that state to track the headway that individual students make from year to year.

Mr. Mahoney was one of 14 people—representing a mix of researchers, state and local officials, nonprofit organizations, and interest groups—who were invited to the first of a series of meetings last month sponsored by the Education Department on using so-called growth models under the federal law.

Several states, including Florida and Tennessee, have already submitted proposals to the department that would enable schools that miss their achievement targets under the NCLB law to demonstrate that they are still making substantial progress by using growth measures.

“We had states this year who asked for growth models,” said Holly Kuzmich, a senior policy adviser in the federal Education Department. “We put them on hold and said wait until we’ve finished the working group.”

Too Late for Current Cycle

It is too late for states this summer to incorporate the use of growth models into their calculations showing whether schools have made adequate yearly progress under the federal law. But many states are hoping the department will release some guidelines or criteria in the next few months that would enable them to use such measures for next year’s accountability determinations.

“We don’t really have a timeline,” said Ms. Kuzmich. “Obviously, we want to work on this as quickly as possible and get an answer to the secretary as quickly as possible, but we need to gather all the right information.”

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings indicated in April that she might be willing to consider the use of accountability models based on growth. But she said that she would first form a working group to advise her on the issue.

In addition to Mr. Mahoney, those invited to the first meeting, held June 22, included: Patricia Brenneman, the superintendent of the Oak Hills, Ohio, school district; Michael D. Casserly, the executive director of the Washington-based Council of the Great City Schools; Mitchell Chester, an assistant superintendent in the Ohio education department; Chrys Dougherty, the director of research for the National Center for Educational Accountability, in Austin, Texas; and Lou Fabrizio, the director of accountability for the North Carolina education department.

The others were: Brian Gong, the executive director of the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment, in Dover, N.H.; Eric A. Hanushek, a professor of education at Stanford University; Kati Haycock, the director of the Washington-based Education Trust; Ted Hershberg, a professor of public policy and history at the University of Pennsylvania; G. Thomas Houlihan, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, in Washington; Lana Seivers, the commissioner of education in Tennessee; Richard Wenning, the accountability-program director for the Denver-based Colorado League of Charter Schools; and John L. Winn, the Florida commissioner of education.

Future Meetings Planned

Ms. Kuzmich said the Education Department plans to convene a series of meetings with other interested groups.

“Next time,” she said, “we’ll bring in some special educators, because that group is interested in growth [models].”

While Ms. Haycock of the Education Trust said that a growth model that could measure the progress of individual students to a set standard sounds appealing, “there are lots of really tough questions there.”

She cautioned that the law, as currently constructed, does not permit the use of growth models except as an enhancement or addition to the current means of calculating adequate yearly progress.

“As a core approach to accountability, not only is it not in the law, but it was explicitly rejected during the lawmaking process,” Ms. Haycock said, noting that the more interesting questions will arise as Congress gears up to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act in 2007.

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