Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Schools Move Toward Following Students' Yearly Progress

A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran a story on something we've talked about a lot here on Gifted Exchange: using yearly NCLB testing to track individual student results, not just school quality. As it is, schools are graded based on the scores of fourth graders this year compared with fourth graders last year. But while that tells you if a whole school is stepping up its game, it tells you nothing about individual children. And last time I checked, we learn individually.

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings is aware of this, and she addressed the topic briefly during her speech at the opening of the Davidson Academy in Reno last summer. A number of states including North Carolina, Ohio and Florida have started participating in a pilot program that tracks individual results on achievement tests, comparing a fourth grader this year with the same kid as a fifth grader next year.

The New York Times article, "Schools Move Toward Following Students' Yearly Progress on Tests," by Winnie Hu, ran on July 6th. That means it's been moved to Times Select and, alas, is not available for free anymore. But here's the rather interesting opener: "The Cohoes city school district, outside Albany, is considering a gifted program for elementary students and adding college-level courses after discovering that its top students improved less on standardized tests in the past two years than everyone else in the district."

Yes, it seems that tracking individual test results shows what gifted education advocates have been saying for a while. Gifted kids are often being left behind. While they may continue to pass grade-level achievement tests, they are not truly learning as much as they could. That the Cohoes district is using this new knowledge to create new gifted programs is reason to celebrate indeed.

There's much to love about individual test result tracking. Schools with large concentrations of disadvantaged children like the concept because it means that they get credit if these kids improve, year over year, even if the kids don't meet a certain set cut-off. Schools that shortchange their brightest students will also be more likely to have a fire lit beneath them. So who's against it? Well, according to Hu's article, it's the usual suspects.

"It's detrimental for education," Aimee Bolender, the president of Dallas's American Federation of Teachers chapter told Hu. "It is pulling apart teams of teachers and it doesn't look at why test scores are low. From the very beginning, we viewed it as a slippery slope that did not do anything valuable to improve the educational environment in the schools." Bolender is fighting a decision by Dallas to remove 30 teachers whose students failed to show adequate progress. Bolender said many teachers call this individual growth model "voodoo math" because "you have to be a Ph.D. in statistics to even comprehend it."

And then there's Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust (which advocates for disadvantaged children). She told Hu that the individual growth model might put too much (!) attention on kids at the top. "It risks so broadening the federal government's involvement that its historical role will be dissipated," she told Hu.

So there you have it. The people who are upset about this don't like it because it means removing bad teachers from classrooms and focusing on gifted kids. From my perspective, that means there's a lot to like.


Anonymous said...

When going into a meeting to advocate for a full grade skip into HS for my profoundly gifted daughter, I assembled all of her testing data, including her MAP-R scores for reading (this is a computerized assessment with no uppper limit given twice a year in our district). Based on the results one could see that she had basically plateaued (ceilinged the test) between 5-7th grades. In fact, each year her fall score was higher than her spring score, only to recover again in the fall...one could thus say that school--and lack of appropriate challenge--was making her dumber. The school system uses this data to target kids who need to improve reading, but does nothing with it for kids on the other end of the spectrum.

Anonymous said...

And btw, they didn't want to do the skip into high school.

Anonymous said...

My son tested last year at the 97th percentile for the total achievement battery and at the 99th percentile for total cognitive ability on a nationally normed grade level group test.

Based on these results, we initiated his participation in a talent search. He scored well on the EXPLORE test (ACT’s 8th grade test) as a 5th grade student, achieving the 90th percentile as compared to other grade level talent search participants for math (75% against 8th grade norms) and 88th percentile as compared to other grade level talent search participants for science (90th percentile against 8th grade norms). His composite score was at the 79th percentile against 8th grade norms. We were fairly impressed with these results because he had never received advanced instruction of any kind prior to this test.

During a meeting to discuss educational placement for this fall, one school administrator stated that they could not conclude that his scores were unusual as compared to what his classmates may have achieved since he was the only one who took the EXPLORE test. Too many sarcastic remarks flashed through my mind in at least three different directions that I had to just remain mute in response! I guess we should conclude that if we continue to ignore his/their ability, potential and motivation, he/they will eventually “even out”. I’m sure they are correct!

Bryan Evans said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bryan Evans said...

I'm a bit surprised that Cohoes School District didn't already have college level classes. It's a relatively decent sized district on the outskirts of Albany. However, I think it's great that they are looking at scores year over year (as I always have) and trying to improve their program from it.

The opposition you mentioned didn't seem that concrete. I can't imagine why looking at scores year over year would be a bad thing. If doing this can help improve the school programs, then do it!

z said...

Interesting to hear that the test results did show stagnation in the top students. I hope we see more awareness and use of individual test results tracking, it has potential benefits for a lot of people. After a recent move, I was very glad to see the new school district implement the same computerized MAP assessment that our former district used; it was nice to have a measure that wasn't state or district specific.

Anonymous said...

This post validates what I've been saying every time we meet with teachers and administrators about my child. He is not making personal progress. And they tell me it is OK because he is way above benchmarks. When NCLB becomes "no child under served" then maybe we will have a program that helps everyone make gains in learning.- Nashville, TN