Federal

NCLB Technical Panel Could Be Influential

By David J. Hoff — September 23, 2008 3 min read
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With Congress having effectively postponed the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, the Department of Education is turning to a panel of experts for advice about the technical issues that linger nearly seven years after the law’s passage.

Lawmakers will wait until at least next year to decide how to amend the federal education law, and that leaves in place the current requirements for standards, testing, and accountability.

Until Congress acts, though, the new advisory committee will help outline regulatory adjustments that the Education Department can make so the law’s accountability system is fairer and easier for school districts to implement.

“We think you’re going to be a good resource for the department,” Raymond J. Simon, the deputy secretary of education, said on Sept. 16 at the first meeting of the National Technical Advisory Panel. “You’re going to be a good resource for Congress.”

And Mr. Simon said the 16-member body will help answer important questions for the next presidential administration about what powers it has to effectively alter how the law works, and what changes must be adopted by Congress in a reauthorization.

Policy Implications

No Child Left Behind Act Technical Panel

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has appointed experts in testing and other policies to be members of the National Technical Advisory Committee:

CHAIRMAN: Tom Fisher, a consultant based in McMinnville, Tenn., and a former director of Florida’s testing program

MEMBERS:

David Abrams, assistant commissioner for standards, assessment, and reporting, New York state department of education

Anthony Alpert, director of assessment, Oregon department of education

Diane Browder, professor of special education, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Wesley Bruce, assistant superintendent for the Center for Accreditation, Assessment, and Licensing, Indiana department of education

Wayne Camara, vice president for research and development, the College Board, New York City

Kevin Carey, research and policy manager, Education Sector, Washington

Gregory Cizek, professor of educational measurement and evaluation, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Carl Cohn, former superintendent of San Diego and Long Beach, Calif., school districts

Denise Collier, chief academic officer, Dallas school district

Robert Costrell, professor of education reform and economics, University of Arkansas at Fayetteville

Harold Doran, principal research analyst, American Institutes for Research, Washington

Margo Gottlieb, lead developer, World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment Consortium, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Suzanne Lane, professor of research methodology, University of Pittsburgh

Scott Marion, vice president, National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment Inc., Dover, N.H.

John Poggio, professor, department of educational psychology and research, University of Kansas, Lawrence

Source: U.S. Department of Education

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings appointed the panel in August to advise the department on standards, assessments, and accountability. The group includes state assessment directors, test designers, and other policy experts.

At its first meeting here, department officials filled the agenda with such questions as how to design growth models and create indexes that provide separate cumulative scores to report a school’s achievement in reading and mathematics.

The discussion of issues surrounding such accountability topics quickly became technical among the experts. But answering such questions can lead to important changes in policy in determining whether schools make adequate yearly progress—or AYP—under the law. Schools that fail to make AYP may have to pay for tutoring for their students and take other actions to improve achievement.

For example, the background paper for the meeting asked whether the Education Department should change the questions peer reviewers ask when evaluating states’ latest applications to use growth models.

The alternative way of measuring AYP can be a more accurate measure of schools’ success because it examines students’ growth over time, rather than comparing students at one grade level to the previous year’s cohort.

But the criteria used to evaluate states’ applications for growth models could make the accountability system “so flexible as to make AYP less meaningful,” the background paper said.

“In short, is it possible for an accountability system to provide too many ways to make AYP?” the document asked the panel members to address.

Secretary Spellings has approved 11 states to use growth models in making AYP decisions and has invited remaining states to submit growth models for potential approval for implementation as soon as the current school year.

Indexing Performance

At the panel’s Sept. 16 meeting, it was clear that the work would be technical.

The first item discussed was what criteria the department should use to evaluate a state’s performance index—a way of combining a variety of results to determine the success of a school. Most indexes give states partial credit for students who achieve at levels below the NCLB law’s goal of proficiency. So far, the department hasn’t approved a plan that gives a school extra credit for the number of students who achieve at a level above proficiency.

The department has approved 12 states’ performance indexes and would consider proposals from other states to make their AYP determinations based on such indexes, said Kerri Briggs, the assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education.

But, Ms. Briggs added, the department would not approve plans that don’t maintain key elements of the law, such as measuring whether students are on track to meet the goal of universal proficiency in reading and mathematics by the end of the 2013-14 school year.

Testing experts turned the discussion to issues of validity and the reliability of test scores.

They also asked whether the department allows states to design indexes to report the results on the alternate assessments given to students with disabilities. So far, Ms. Briggs said, the department hasn’t done so.

“If you’re going to allow index systems for all students, I can’t see a reason why you couldn’t apply the same index system to the alternate assessment,” said Scott Marion, a panel member and a vice president of the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment, a nonprofit consultant to states based in Dover, N.H.

A version of this article appeared in the September 24, 2008 edition of Education Week as NCLB Technical Panel Could Be Influential

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