4/18/2006

Pushback & Piling On: Responses to the NCLB Loophole Story

While most states are getting pummeled for not counting what ends up being scads of minority kids in school ratings (560 related stories on Google news), school officials in New Jersey say that they're bucking the trend and proposing a smaller minimum subgroup size and lawmakers in Albama are asking questions about whether the AP story was misleading.

UPDATE: The NCLB Commission piles on (but promises no changes) and the AFT blog bravely but mistakenly tries to defend the AYP loophole.

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New Jersey officials did the best job of flipping the story outright, pointing out that the state has requested a change that might lower the threshold from the current 20 per grade to an average of 10 per grade (N.J. seeks to give minorities' scores wider exposure Philly Inquirer).

However, close observers will note that it's really a 30-student gradespan minimum that they're asking for, which could cut either way depending on the actual distribution of kids in the state. Other states are doing this -- anyone know how many -- and I'm not sure it always increases accountability.

Meanwhile, state officials in Alabama push back on the AP story and point out that the kids are not left out entirely -- their scores are included in the whole-school rating -- even when there are not enough to meet the subgroup threshold.

The AP story does include this point -- twice -- albeit not very prominently. One example from the second half of the story: "State educators defend the exemptions, saying minority students' performance is still being included in their schools' overall statistics even when they aren't being counted in racial categories. Excluded minority students' scores may be counted at the district or state level." It's a point many will have missed.

Trying to get into the mix, the NCLB Commission release calls for greater transparency -- but not necessarily any limits on subgroup minimums: "The practices raised in this article have had the effect of making these children invisible and speak to greater transparency over how this law is implemented." Transparency is the focus, not changes.

Over at the AFT blog NCLB, the AFTies bravely paddle upstream and defend the loophole, pointing out that subgroup thresholds make sense conceptually (if not at 50 students), that educators can't avoid low-scoring kids forever without any impact on AYP ratings (that's not very reassuring), that interventions like tutoring and transfers are available to all students even if their subgroup isn't big enough to be scored (tell that to most parents trying to get either), and that -- of course -- the 100 proficiency rate isn't realistic or even possible under current AYP rules. This last argument aggravates me the most, since it -- along with the "underfunding" argument -- has been one of the most pervasive and least honest arguments against NCLB over the past four years.

2 Comments:

Anonymous John at AFT said...

Alexander, I think you misread our blog on a couple of counts.

First, you say we defended the loophole. But here's what I wrote: "[S]ome states, with the complicity of the U.S. Department of Education, have done an end run around NCLB's requirement that schools be held accountable for the achievement of students of all races and ethnicities, as well as disadvantaged, ELL and special ed students."

I added that the loophole allowed states to use decent overall scores to mask poor subgroup scores and that "was exactly the flaw NCLB was supposed to address."

I'm not sure how I could have made it more clear that I wasn't defending the loophole.

I mentioned 100% proficiency only in a parenthetical phrase: "(leaving aside the argument about whether the 100% goal is reasonable)." Again, I don't know how I could have made it more clear that I was leaving aside that issue, not taking it on.

I do have some problems with the current AYP formula, but the 100% goal isn't really the biggest one for me.

4:35 PM  
Blogger KDeRosa said...

Especially since it's not really 100% even under the current law. States get to exclude 1% of the student population who can take an alternative assessment suited to their needs. Then there's the alternate accommodations that can be given to other handicapped kids. Then there's the allowance for absent kids.

10:35 PM  

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