Opinion
Federal Commentary

Ending Accountability Loopholes

By George Miller — September 13, 2007 3 min read

As the debate over the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act intensifies, one of the key questions we face is what we can do to improve the law’s accountability provisions. The Bush administration—which views the law as “99.9 percent pure”—favors minimal changes in reauthorization. That’s unfortunate, because—among other problems with the status quo—maintaining it would mean continuing to exclude millions of children from the law’s accountability system.

In its implementation of NCLB, the Bush administration has allowed for enormous loopholes that undermine the goals of the law.

See Also

Read related commentary by U.S. Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif.,

NCLB Plan Risks ‘Slippery Slope’

For starters, the administration has permitted states to use large “N-sizes”—up to 200—for reporting on adequate yearly progress, or AYP, by subgroup.

Rep. George Miller

A school’s N-size is the number of children that must belong to a subgroup in order for that subgroup to be included in AYP calculations. If a school has an N-size of 200, and the school has 199 Hispanic students, then none of those Hispanic students would be included in the school’s disaggregated AYP calculations.

The damage from this loophole is enormous. Last year, in an exhaustive investigation, the Associated Press found that nearly 2 million students nationwide are simply left out of disaggregated AYP calculations, including an estimated 15 percent of minority students nationwide. This is an outrage. It runs completely counter to the integrity of the law. In April 2006, I joined a number of my Democratic colleagues in the House in urging U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings to address the N-size loophole. The secretary took no action.

Yet the N-size loophole may not be the biggest one. The Bush administration has also permitted states to use unreasonable “confidence intervals”—essentially, wide statistical ranges—when determining how many students have reached proficiency in reading or math. Think of confidence intervals like a margin of error in an opinion poll. The larger the confidence interval, the more wiggle room states have to meet their proficiency targets.

When the Bush administration tries to cast the current reauthorization debate in terms of more vs. less accountability, don’t buy the spin.

The independent, nonpartisan Congressional Research Service examined confidence intervals and came up with some disturbing conclusions. Looking at one state, the CRS found that the number of schools that did not meet their AYP targets increased by nearly 8 percent because the state used a confidence interval of 99 instead of 95.

Despite this evidence, the Bush administration allows nearly half the states to use a confidence interval of 99, effectively the highest possible.

In August, I joined with three of my colleagues on the House Education and Labor Committee—Reps. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., Dale E. Kildee, D-Mich., and Michael N. Castle, R-Del.—to release a discussion draft of Title I of our reauthorization bill. In the draft, we sought to close these loopholes. For starters, we capped N-sizes at 30. In Texas, an additional 31,000 African-American students would be included in disaggregated AYP calculations if the state had an N-size of 30. In California, an additional 153,000 English-language learners would be included if the state had an N-size of 30.

Reps. George Miller, D-Calif., second from right, Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., right, and Ronald E. Jackson Executive Director, Citizens for Better Schools, Birmingham, Ala. , left, wait to address a business group on Sept. 5 about renewing the No Child Left Behind Act. Also speaking at the event was U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.

Our discussion draft also caps confidence intervals at 95. In addition, we sought to address other loopholes that cut students with disabilities and high school dropouts out of NCLB’s system of accountability.

There is no justification for the administration’s loopholes. They arbitrarily and needlessly weaken the heart of the No Child Left Behind law—accountability—and make it harder for us to reach the law’s goals of educating every child.

What we need is a smarter system of accountability. For example, our discussion draft would allow states to assess school performance on more than just reading and math tests. All over the country, teachers, parents, and other stakeholders believe we should be measuring schools more fairly and comprehensively. I agree with them. If we keep a strong focus on student progress in reading and math, but also allow additional indicators to play a role, we can have a richer, better understanding of what’s really happening inside our schools.

When the Bush administration tries to cast the current reauthorization debate in terms of more vs. less accountability, don’t buy the spin. What we should aim for is a smart system of accountability—one that doesn’t needlessly exclude millions of children across the country.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Educator-Driven EdTech Design: Help Shape the Future of Classroom Technology
Join us for a collaborative workshop where you will get a live demo of GoGuardian Teacher, including seamless new integrations with Google Classroom, and participate in an interactive design exercise building a feature based on
Content provided by GoGuardian
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: What Did We Learn About Schooling Models This Year?
After a year of living with the pandemic, what schooling models might we turn to as we look ahead to improve the student learning experience? Could year-round schooling be one of them? What about online
School & District Management Webinar What's Ahead for Hybrid Learning: Putting Best Practices in Motion
It’s safe to say hybrid learning—a mix of in-person and remote instruction that evolved quickly during the pandemic—is probably here to stay in K-12 education to some extent. That is the case even though increasing

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Miguel Cardona: Schools Must Work to Win Trust of Families of Color as They Reopen
As Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona announced new school reopening resources, he encouraged a focus on equity and student engagement.
4 min read
Education Secretary nominee Miguel Cardona testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee during his confirmation hearing Feb. 3, 2021.
Now-U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee during his confirmation hearing in February.
Susan Walsh/AP
Federal CDC: Nearly 80 Percent of K-12, Child-Care Workers Have Had at Least One COVID-19 Shot
About four out of five teachers, school staffers, and child-care workers had first COVID-19 vaccine doses by the end of March, CDC says.
2 min read
John Battle High School teacher Jennifer Daniel receives her COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 11, 2021. Teachers received their first vaccine during an all-day event at the Virginia Highlands Higher Education Center in Abingdon, Va.
John Battle High School teacher Jennifer Daniel receives her COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 11at the Virginia Highlands Higher Education Center in Abingdon, Va.
David Crigger/Bristol Herald Courier via AP
Federal Ed. Dept. to Review Title IX Rules on Sexual Assault, Gender Equity, LGBTQ Rights
The review could reopen a Trump-era debate on sexual assault in schools, and it could spark legal discord over transgender student rights.
4 min read
Symbols of gender.
iStock/Getty
Federal Q&A EdWeek Q&A: Miguel Cardona Talks Summer Learning, Mental Health, and State Tests
In an interview after a school reopening summit, the education secretary also addressed teachers' union concerns about CDC guidance.
10 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during a press briefing at the White House on March 17, 2021.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona speaks during a press briefing at the White House on March 17.
Andrew Harnik/AP