This week, the National Education Association (NEA) added its voice to a group of organizations calling for relief from the regulations of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the most recent version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The NEA and other groups (like the American Association of School Administrators and the National School Boards Association) are calling on the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to ease regulations under the law, giving schools, districts, and states increased flexibility as they await reauthorization.
Citing increased financial pressure on school districts caused by the economic recession, the NEA letter suggests eight ways for ED to relax regulations without compromising the original intent of NCLB. Currently, these regulations place several restrictions on school districts such as requiring 100 percent of students to score proficient or above on NCLB tests by the 2013-14 school year or 100 percent of teachers in classrooms to be considered “highly qualified.” The fourth recommendation in their letter caught our eye. It suggests that ED “expedite the invitation and approval of valid and reliable growth models to measure changes in student performance.” This proposal would enable all states to use student growth models instead of achievement levels to determine whether their schools meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).
Currently, states use assessments developed under NCLB guidelines to test students’ math and reading proficiency in each grade in a given year and determine AYP status. Under this model, a school does not reach AYP if a certain percentage of any subgroup of students does not score proficient or above in a specific grade or subject matter. Progress or growth does not currently factor in to AYP determinations. Many have argued that this system doesn’t adequately measure student achievement because it does not recognize gains in student learning, only whether or not a certain percentage of students have reached a somewhat arbitrary goal. Under a growth model system, AYP would be determined at least in part by growth in student learning throughout the year, allowing educators to measure the degree to which students have made achievement gains in that time span.
ED has already begun to invest in the development of growth models in the states. ED started an NCLB growth model pilot program in 2005. States that had showed progress under the original AYP system were eligible to apply to the pilot program, which would allow them to incorporate growth models into their AYP determinations. Eight states were approved to participate in the growth model pilot program in the first school year, and seven more states were added in subsequent school years for a total of 15 participating states. According to a 2010 ED report on the original eight states in the pilot program, the use of growth models in AYP determinations lead to more schools making AYP each year. The effect was especially great in high-poverty schools (about an 8 percent increase in the number of schools meeting AYP when growth models are used, versus 3 percent in low-poverty schools). According to the report, this could help states and school districts target efforts at schools where both proficiency and growth are low.
Additionally, growth models play a significant role in Race to the Top, a new $4.4 billion federal competitive grant program to encourage state reform efforts. One of the four areas of focus in the Race to the Top (RttT) grant competition was “building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction.” As a result, several states included plans to integrate student growth models into their teacher assessment systems in their winning applications. For example, Florida will use past research on value-added analysis and the expertise of a special committee to build a measure of student growth as part of its state assessment system. School districts in Florida that are participating in Race to the Top will integrate the student growth model into their teacher and principal assessment systems. Teachers will be able to access their own student growth data through a new data portal that will also be created through the Race to the Top grant.
Both the RttT and the NCLB growth model pilot program have laid a solid foundation for states to develop meaningful growth models. And the Obama Administration made clear in its “Blueprint for Education Reform” that a measure of student growth should be included in the reauthorization of ESEA. No doubt, growth models will play a significant role in educational assessment in the coming years, particularly as the research is more refined and states become more familiar and comfortable with using them. Until ESEA is reauthorized by Congress, however, adjustments to NCLB regulations will just tinker around the edges of a flawed piece of legislation. We hope Congress prioritizes tackling ESEA in the coming months so that growth models and other important reforms can be implemented soon.