06 May 2008

Changes to Title I and NCLB

I've been paying more attention to Title I as of late. In my morning district, there are triple the number of schools which now qualify (as opposed to just 3 years ago) with more teetering on the edge. My afternoon district is already all Title I. This is a poor area...which is getting poorer. The Department of Education recently "announced proposed regulations [for Title I] to strengthen and clarify No Child Left Behind. The proposed regulations focus on improved accountability and transparency, uniform and disaggregated graduation rates, and improved parental notification for supplemental educational services and public school choice." There will be a forum in Seattle later this month (more info here, if interested) to provide feedback on the proposal. I'm kind of interested in going---I'm curious how the presentation and discussion will range.

The DoE has some fact sheets, press releases, other documentation on its website, but here are a few highlights:
  • Clarification that accountability measures can include one or more assessments constructed from multiple kinds of items. In other words, schools do not have to measure progress based on a single test. While I think that this is very much a step in the right direction, it is also a bit of a can of worms in terms of what a school might define as an assessment, as well as the weight it gives to different measures. Hey, we'll burn that bridge when we come to it...so to speak.
  • Build on criteria that are part of the current "growth model" pilot program. " There is general consensus among teachers, administrators, researchers, and advocates that states should be permitted to include measures of individual student growth (i.e., growth models) when determining AYP. By allowing states to include measures of individual student progress in AYP calculations, schools will continue to be held accountable for the achievement of all students. At the same time, states will have the flexibility to use more sophisticated methods of determining AYP." I also like this idea. Isn't the point to help each child improve their level of knowledge each year---even if the kid is unable to meet the standard? The predominant issue I see now is that the tier which is right below standard---the "strategic" group---has a huge range. In one of my schools, we see huge leaps in learning, but may still fall within the strategic category. For example, let's say that a student has an overall score of 15 on DIBELS in the fall...and 48 in the winter (when the grade level benchmark is 50). The child has tripled their score and there may be many other indicators of change---but the school gets no credit for this because the child is short of benchmark. Compare that to a kid who starts at 48 in the fall and is at 51 in the winter. That child would be considered a success for the school. Growth modeling could really help with this issue.
  • States will be able to participate in a differentiated accountability program. "Differentiated accountability means creating a more nuanced system of distinguishing between schools in need of dramatic intervention, and those that are closer to meeting goals...In return, states must commit to: build their capacity for school reform; take the most significant actions for the lowest-performing schools, including addressing the issue of teacher effectiveness; and use data to determine the method of differentiation and categories of intervention." Like the growth model, this allows for some flexibility in terms of which schools are in need of the greatest support...and which are "almost there." Just as there is an enormous range of students in the strategic category, we can see the same in the AYP group for schools. If the "failure" of one subgroup in one subject area is enough to qualify you as a failing school...and so is the failure of four subgroups in two subject areas, states need to be able to focus resources where they're needed most.
  • There are also several changes and clarification to the notion of school choice. Parents have the right to move their children to better performing schools once the neighbourhood school has been labeled as "failing." Personally, I don't think that transparency about this is the real issue (as the DoE believes). Parents---especially low-income ones---are not going to move their children to a "better" school because they can. They like the security of knowing what happens at the neighbourhood school as it's part of the world they move in. How will you pick up your sick child from school when you now have to take 3 different city buses to get there---let alone participate in evening/after school activities? Parents are more concerned that their child is happy and learning, rather than looking at the overall quality of the school.
I'll let you know if I get to sit in on the discussions about all of this in Seattle. Perhaps it's because I haven't been paying much attention to these sorts of things before, but NCLB has always seemed so far away. It would be nice to be part of the process, if only to listen in on what will be happening to us.

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