As Easy as ABC?

, Lindalyn Kakadelis, Leave a comment

Science fiction novelist William Gibson once said, “The future is here. It’s just not widely distributed yet.” The same could be said of many innovative ideas in education reform. They’re here, and they’re working; but if the education establishment has its way, you probably don’t know about them yet.

At the Alliance, we continue to do our part to get the message out. In fact, back in 2003, the Alliance hosted an event featuring Dr. Bill Sanders, academician and researcher, and one of the pioneers of value-added assessment. Dr. Sanders spoke about the need for value-added analysis in providing meaningful and objective information about the factors affecting student growth.

While the value-added method may sound complicated, the logic behind it is actually quite simple. Essentially, the concept is based on the idea that measuring student growth over a period of years provides far more detailed information about the impact of schools and teachers on learning than just looking at test results from a fixed point in time. After all, effective teaching naturally translates into students who achieve and make consistent gains over time. Value-added analysis also reveals the level of growth necessary for low-performing students to reach proficiency, and indicates whether high-performing students are sufficiently
challenged (even if these kids have routinely high test scores, they need to show growth too).

Fortunately, the value-added concept is catching on; several states are implementing some kind of value-added analysis. Currently, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and New York all use value-added systems, and Ohio has just jumped on board. What about North Carolina? Statewide, our ABCs accountability program has always incorporated a growth component, but the formula differs substantially from Sanders’s model – our model may sound good, but unfortunately, the “devil is in the details.” Several low-performing
school systems in North Carolina do incorporate Dr. Sanders’s value-added formula to evaluate teaching methods and efficiency; hopefully, more will join on as they hear about it.

What happens when accountability systems fail to assess growth at all, and instead look just at isolated test scores? Such programs give rise to a host of problems. In fact, many of the complaints about No Child Left Behind (NCLB) center on the fact that this law holds states responsible for minimal, grade-level proficiency standards, but not academic growth. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education approved North Carolina as one of two states to pilot a growth component for measuring Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), giving schools some degree of flexibility. In our state, a low-performing student below grade-level proficiency
will now be counted proficient if he makes sufficient academic growth gains.

But while acceptance of this kind of growth model is helpful for schools in assessing AYP, it still does nothing to correct the unintended consequences of NCLB for students. There’s no question that as teachers continue to concentrate on bringing low-performing students to minimal grade level standards, high-performing students will be left out in the cold; these students already surpass minimal standards, so there’s little motivation to ensure they are progressing.

What’s the bottom line for parents? Simply knowing a child’s End of Grade (EOG) or End of Course (EOC) achievement level is not enough. Instead, parents should push for full disclosure when it comes to evaluating the impact of teachers and schools on their child’s academic growth, by informing policymakers and school administrators about value-added assessments. The future is here. Let’s get the word out.

Lindalyn Kakadelis heads the North Carolina Education Alliance