‘Growth’ Pilot Now Open to All States

By David J. Hoff — December 07, 2007 4 min read
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All states that meet federal criteria will now be allowed to take part in the U.S. Department of Education’s 2-year-old experiment with “growth models,” which let states measure individual students’ achievement gains as a way of ensuring accountability under the No Child Left Behind Act.

After originally capping participation at 10 states, and approving just eight, department officials this week opened eligibility for the growth-model pilot project to all qualified states. The officials say that the first states to use those models in the project have shown it can be done without compromising the goals of the law.

“We feel pretty good about [the pilot program] right now,” Keri Briggs, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, said in an interview. “We will approve more than 10 if we get enough good proposals.”

The new states will have to meet the same criteria as the original eight. They will have to gauge whether students are on track to attain proficiency in reading and mathematics by the end of the 2013-14 school year. They also will have to make sure their testing systems produce consistent results across grade levels.

State officials will welcome the opportunity to sign up for the expanded pilot because it’s clear that the NCLB law’s accountability measures will eventually focus on academic growth, said Scott R. Palmer, the director of the education practice at the Washington office of the law firm Holland & Knight.

“It’s certainly the right thing to do,” said Mr. Palmer, who represents the Council of Chief State School Officers and several states.

The growth-model project has been one of the hallmarks of Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings’ tenure. Shortly after taking office in 2005, she announced she would approve states’ applications for growth models in her effort to address criticisms that the NCLB law was too inflexible for states to implement successfully. (“Education Department Announces More Flexible Approach to NCLB Law,” April 7, 2005.)

Wide Agreement

In Congress’ early work on reauthorizing the law, most lawmakers, education lobbyists, and researchers have agreed that growth models should be the standard way of determining whether a school or district is making adequate yearly progress, or AYP, a key measure of performance under the law.

Under a growth model, a school is held accountable for increasing individual students’ achievement from one school year to the next. The model sets as a goal for students either to be proficient or to show test-score increases that will result in their being proficient by the end of 2013-14.

In contrast, the method adopted in the NCLB law, known as the “status model,” compares the achievement of one cohort of students against the test scores of the students in the previous year’s class.

So far, the Education Department has given eight states permission to report their accountability results under the law using federally approved growth models. North Carolina and Tennessee first did so for the 2005-06 school year; Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, and Iowa reported growth scores for the first time for the 2006-07 school year.

Ohio will be allowed to use its growth plan once the state lowers its “n” size—the minimum number of students needed in a racial, ethnic, economic, or other category before a school is held accountable for that group’s performance.

Status Quo

In the first years of the pilot project, the number of schools in those states meeting their AYP goals hasn’t increased appreciably, Ms. Briggs said.

That’s because states have given schools opportunities under their status models to make AYP in alternative ways, she said, such as applying margins of error and giving schools credit for substantially increasing the number of students who are proficient or who are near that performance level.

Another reason is the strict criteria for participating in the growth-model project, according to one expert. States needed to create plans that tracked whether every student was on pace to meet the goal of universal proficiency by the end of the 2013-14 school year.

“The rules are limiting the potential benefits of growth models,” said Pete Goldschmidt, an assistant professor of education at California State University-Northridge, and one of the experts who reviewed state applications to the pilot project for the federal department.

“But [the project is] definitely a step in the right direction,” he said.

Working on Data

Just 34 states collect all the data they need to produce reports for growth models, such as a unique number to identify each student in the state, according to a recent survey of the Data Quality Campaign. The DQC, led by the Austin, Texas-based National Center for Educational Accountability, is a coalition of groups working to improve the quality of state data systems.

Most of the other states are working to improve their data systems so that they’ll be able to produce reports on student growth soon, said Mr. Palmer, the Washington lawyer.

“You could see this [expansion] having a significant impact, whether it’s this year or the year after,” he said.

The department is telling states to submit proposals by Feb. 1. It plans to convene a new panel of experts to review applications in April, with Secretary Spellings scheduled to approve the states in time for them to publish AYP results for the current school year.


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