Friday, September 17, 2010

Holliday Calls for Refocus on Student Success

On September 23, the Kentucky Department of Education will release reports that preview Kentucky's proposed accountability model- one that focuses on college and career readiness, proficiency, growth and closing gaps.

Commissioner Terry Holliday says the new model will be an improvement over the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) measures mandated by No Child Left Behind.

How could it be anything other than better? AYP took everything we know about research-based student assessment, and threw it out the window in favor of an approach designed to identify failure wherever it could be found - even in places where it wasn't.

Now, Holliday has a more pleasant recollection of NCLB's history than I do. On Dr H's blog the Commish says,
As an educator, I can’t deny that the purpose of NCLB is very laudable. We all want every child to be successful. The measure of AYP was never intended to label schools as failures, nor have teachers felt like they are failures. However, each year around this time, news reports all over the state and nation come out about NCLB and how schools have failed to make the grade or how schools have come up short on the NCLB scale.
While I agree that NCLB's aspiration to improve the achievement of all students is the right goal, the underlying motivation of NCLB's infamous AYP has been questioned by many.

I quibble because, as I recall, initially NCLB actually used the term "Failing" to describe schools that did not make AYP - language that was later softened after many complaints that questioned the true motivation behind NCLB. Was NCLB really a cynical effort to label as many pubic schools as possible as "failures" in support of a move toward privatizing public education?

And, I suspect many teachers were made to feel like failures along the way. As principals and superintendents bore down on the entire faculty, on many occassions, the "true motivations" of whole groups of teachers were questioned, as though their attitudes were perpetuating achievement gaps. Of course, in some percentage of cases that was surely true - but certainly not in most cases. NCLB cast its blame widely and unfairly, much as some school administrators did.

But that is not to downplay the importance of a new accountability system - one that holds standards high while valuing growth. While still not perfect, such a system would be more realistic and more fair to Kentucky teachers.

Early drafts of the new testing system, shared with the state board of education late last year, began in third grade with annual reading and math tests, periodic science, social studies and on-demand writing tests, ACT exams, and end of course exams for certain high school classes.

This is all a part of a long transition from a pre-KERA teacher-centered approach to teaching and testing to a standards-centered approach. It is also part of a transition from the days when test scores were withheld from the public to today's approach of publicizing every piece of school performance data we can get our hands on. Don't get me wrong, I like a lot of data and I like it public. But the data must be used appropriately. That's something many folks fail to do, just like NCLB.

The new system will collect individual student achievement data over time and look at student performance individually.

Now the Commish would like our help chatting up the politicians.
No Child Left Behind is coming up for re-authorization in the next year or so. I encourage all citizens to help teachers and staff communicate to our politicians that we support helping children be successful; however, we need other ways to announce the results of our efforts and the progress, not failure, of our schools. In Kentucky, the requirements of Senate Bill 1 will serve as a model for the nation as we consider reauthorization of NCLB.
Holliday is referring to an accountability system that does not forget to value student growth. And that's a good thing to value for every child in any school.

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