More Gifted Debate…And Now With More Hassel!

Public Impact’s Emily and Bryan Hassel send along the following about the ongoing gifted debate. Like Eduwonk they’re skeptical that any sort of stick-based value-add accountability system will work for higher performing schools but they offer a carrot-based idea:

Eduwonk’s recent posts about “gifted” students raise some important issues. In any school, some students are ready to go beyond the state’s standards. It’s tempting, but wrong, to envision these students as all being white and affluent, with whiny, SUV-driving parents. In fact, an estimated 20-30% of gifted kids come from blue-collar / low-skill families, and even more poor and minority children are ready to learn beyond grade level. Under current accountability systems, though, schools have little incentive to help them achieve at higher levels. We think this is a big problem. It’s a travesty to check off poor and minority students as “successful” when they could achieve much more, especially in a world where economic changes are demanding higher levels of capacity. Advanced opportunity at school is more important, not less, for children who won’t get it at home.

But how could an accountability system create the right incentives? The key, as Eduwonk suggests with skepticism, is measuring students’ growth over time. In today’s NCLB debates, the idea of measuring growth is usually trotted out as way to make it easier for schools to make AYP even if they’re not getting kids up to grade level. Like Eduwonk, we think this idea stinks. But what about using growth measures to challenge schools to do even better with kids who are ready to go beyond?

Here’s a rough sketch of how it might work. For kids below grade level, leave accountability the way it is — schools should get every child up to standard, period. For kids who meet or exceed grade level targets, also measure their growth over the next year. Calculate the percentage of them who achieve a year’s worth of growth. Disaggregate to distinguish how well schools do with kids who are especially advanced, say the top 10%. Label schools as making “Extraordinary Yearly Progress” (EYP) only if they achieve a very high percentage on these measures, like 98%.

At a minimum, report EYP results along with AYP. Make it a point of pride for schools to say they’re not just hitting the minimum, but shooting past it. In EYP, give parents of kids ready to go beyond a much more meaningful indicator of a school’s value than AYP. Better yet, reward schools financially with a cash bonus for each above-grade level low-income child who exceeds the progress target, but only if the school makes AYP as well.

Of course this is just a rough sketch, lots of details would need to be worked out and most states have a long way to go to be able to measure like this. But the big concept is solid: grade level is not good enough, so let’s go ahead and raise the bar. Otherwise, all we’ve got is the soft bigotry of higher-but-still-too-low expectations.

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