Growth under NCLB: malignant or benign?

One persistent critique of NCLB, often pooh-poohed on Eduwonk, is that by focusing on what percentage of kids meets grade level standards, it overlooks “growth” — how much progress schools and kids are making. Critics ask: isn’t that what schools should be held accountable for anyway? States have begun proposing revised AYP models that take growth into account, so this theoretical debate has become real for the Dept. of Ed. Hence the creation of an advisory group on the topic which just completed its first meeting.

Opponents of using growth measures to hold schools accountable worry they’re a backdoor way of lowering standards. We want all kids to meet grade level standards, right? “Growth” doesn’t mean much unless it results in proficiency, so why not stick to proficiency as our core accountability focus? Aren’t we just lowering the bar if we do anything else?

Not necessarily. There are lots of ways growth measures could be used to raise the bar. Here’s one: rating schools solely on percent proficient doesn’t hold them accountable for adding value to kids who are already proficient. When we think kids like this, we tend to think of the privileged. But the truth is there are millions of children from poor and middle-income families who fit this bill. We also tend to think “these kids will do fine regardless,” a proposition that has repeatedly been proven false. And we tend to think that helping these kids advance is less important than bringing others up to standard. But for these kids, especially the low-income ones, advancing beyond grade level standards is their best ticket to a better life via college and higher paying work. Not to mention how our national economy relies increasingly on knowledge workers whose skills exceed the basics.

For all these reasons, we ought to build accountability systems that demand results for already-proficient kids — and some kind of growth measure is probably the way to do it. That’s raising the bar for schools and kids, not lowering it.

— Guestblogger Bryan Hassel, Public Impact

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