Friday, August 11, 2006

Welcome to the math of NCLB - many schools slide into "failing" status

In Vermont, schools categorized as failing climbed from 10 to 61. One of the causes of this five-fold increase was the inclusion of more children who had not been included in the testing system. This is the bane and boon of NCLB. The law requires that the schools be held accountable for teaching and testing all students. At the same time, the rising bar means that many schools will have to achieve gains in learning that may not be possible under any circumstances - particularly with the more need children.

State leaders cite growth models as a way of better reflecting what students are accomplishing on the path to proficiency. Many of the states that applied to the U.S. Department of Education's growth model pilot program cited reducing the number of schools on the "failing" list as one of the key motivators.

We had a study group here at WCER go through all of the applications for the growth model exception. While the is a reduction in the number of schools identified as failing in the short term, the attainment requirements don't get lifted. Under a growth model, it would simply put off the dramatic increase of schools identified as failing for a couple of years. At that point, the numbers would climb even more spectacularly.

That may actually be part of the strategy. The mechanistic application of the "failing school" label to the many, many schools that are actually doing pretty well for most students would likely create a huge political backlash against NCLB. I don't actually own a tin-foil hat, but this sort of logic would not surprise me.


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