Assessing Educational Success

, Lindalyn Kakadelis, Leave a comment

When it comes to educating children, how do we measure success? Should we look only at isolated test scores, or should we assess academic growth over time? Recent policy changes will undoubtedly reignite this debate.

This month, North Carolina (along with the state of Tennessee) was chosen by the U. S. Department of Education (DOE) to pilot a program evaluating the academic growth gains of students. Since the advent of the federal legislation No Child Left Behind, North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has lobbied for such flexibility. Rather than simply measuring grade-level proficiency, this new growth model will look at academic change over time – a formula that is more compatible with the state’s ABCs accountability program. North Carolina’s assessment system will need to have full approval by July 1, 2006.

What does the new program mean for North Carolina schools? Students who fail to demonstrate grade level proficiency will now have a chance to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goals if they post growth gains. Had such an accountability measurement been in place last year, 40 additional schools would have met AYP goals in our state.

Clearly, measuring growth (rather than just achievement) has its advantages: it encourages teachers to work with every child in the classroom, not just those who are close to proficiency. But while this policy will inch us closer to real accountability, it will still leave many students out in the cold. By failing to measure the progress of students who are already at grade level proficiency, this policy change will not provide useful feedback on overall student growth.

In other education news, educators are grappling with the reality that teaching credentials may not deliver the goods. New data, conducted by Dr. William Sanders (the researcher who pioneered the idea of evaluating student growth gains) is likely to fuel anti-credentialing sentiment. Commissioned by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) – which obviously has a vested interest in burnishing the luster of certification – this report found that nationally certified teachers failed to produce noticeably more academic progress than their non-credentialed peers. With a large data set of more than 35,000 students and 800 teachers in Mecklenburg and Wake Counties, this study is hard to dismiss.

Interestingly, NBPTS originally chose not to release the report’s negative findings, relenting only after their lack of disclosure became a subject of controversy (covered in the by-subscription-only, Ed Week). A critical education blog may have prompted NBPTS to post the report and overview on their website.

This report joins a number of other studies questioning the effectiveness of board certification, including a 2002 NBPTS). North Carolina has more national board-certified teachers than any other state – a state of affairs that is costing us plenty, but doesn’t appear to be helping our students.

Where do we go from here? In light of the data, it’s time to take a closer look at certification policies. Instead of rewarding teachers for clearing never-ending bureaucratic hurdles, we ought instead to pay them based on whether students learn. In the end, whether we’re looking at academic growth, test scores, or teaching credentials, that’s what really matters.

Lindalyn Kakadelis is the Director of the North Carolina Education Alliance. This article was from her column, Lindayln’s Journal.