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.