Semantics, Or Some Antics?

Haven’t blogged yet on the AFTie event of last week, it was a good event and kudos to the AFTies for putting it together. The Paul Barton paper (pdf) is worth reading if you follow this issue (though I think it wants for political context** and more context about the creation of NCLB, and what parents want by way of information). For my money, most interesting takeaways:

*First, Paul Barton candidly acknowledging that growth models are not really achievement gap closing initiatives. You could feel the air go out of the balloon when he said it. That shows a central tension in the discussion today: The theoretical best way to measure school progress and the most effective public policy to address gaps in achievement correlated with racial, ethnic, and income groups.

*The subtle but seismic shift in the conversation from teaching to standards to being just “standards-based.” This also relates to the point above. There are people who believe (Ed Trust for instance) that the policy should be focused on ensuring that kids are taught to specific standards and that school accountability stems from that. No Child embodies that view. Of course, there can be a little wiggle room in that, No Child’s current growth model safe-harbor, or initiatives like the recent pilot program, but the basic emphasis is on teaching to standards. Now though, in the context of growth models, we’re hearing more discussion of standards being the framework but school accountability being focused on student growth year-to-year. Sure, makes sense theoretically, but that’s a standards-based system but not one explicitly focused on teaching to standards.

Of course, these two approaches can be married in a hybrid model but that raises very complicated questions about where to put the accountability load and who bears it. In other words, at what point is just growth not enough? Or does no such point exist? In fact, the very arguments that support the push for growth models argue against ever having a fixed point where schools/teachers are held accountable for getting students to a standard…

*Third, pretty much everyone acknowledges the states have a long way to go before this is a reality, so the conversation is akin to discussing manned missions to Jupiter in 2007. And, ironically, this probably isn’t nearly the most interesting NCLB reauthorization discussion anyway because it seems pretty apparent where it will land: A high bar for states that want to use growth, along the lines of the pilot, and NCLB’s default system for everyone else.***

**Namely, states and school districts are gaming the system now. That’s no surprise, it’s par for the course in policy implementation. But, is there any reason to believe they wouldn’t game another system? Especially one that is less transparent?

***And hopefully a bit more attention to all the creative things states can do accountability-wise under NCLB now, but aren’t. Especially at the elementary and middle school levels states could do a lot more under the current law to address some of concerns raised by the growth model crowd (aggregating across grades, etc…).

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