Too Good To Check, Part Deux!

The Washington Post ran a story this morning basically about how the No Child Left Behind accountability rules are soooo unfair.  In fairness to the writer, Nick Anderson, it is difficult in even 1,000 or 1,200 words to unpack complicated policy arrangements such as the federal law’s “safe harbor” provisions or the fact that not all students take standardized tests and that many, for instance some special education and limited-English proficient students take alternative assessments.   For a primer on how that all works click here (pdf). So my initial gripe with the story was that it really obscured the reality of the “100 percent” proficient rates that NCLB allegedly requires and I was disappointed that the story uncritically relayed some misleading statements.  Charlie Barone was harsher in his judgment.

But now after day in meetings (and fighting snowbound traffic) I’ve had a chance to look at the performance data for the school Anderson built the story around.  Here’s the math data.  Anderson’s take is that it’s only special education students causing the school to not make “adequate yearly progress” because just 52 percent are proficient and that shows how unwieldy the law is.  In fact, at this school, low-income students are lagging too (only half of them are proficient in math, fewer than in special education) but the law’s safe harbor rules meant that even that performance level was acceptable this year.  In other words, they didn’t make adequate yearly progress either but a safety valve in the law meant that didn’t count against the school.  Meanwhile, only 66 percent of the school’s 38 Hispanic students are proficient in math.  This time, because of the loopholes Maryland exploits 66 percent is good enough as well even though Maryland is requiring a 77 percent pass rate this year.  And I don’t want to be gratuitous but performance for limited-English proficient kids is going down…that didn’t make it in the story either.  Punchline: All that adds up to a different take than Post readers got this morning.  It is worth noting that reading scores at the school are better, but big gaps there, too.


First, again, things that are too good to be true, usually are and it’s usually a good idea to look at the actual data. Second, as the numbers above show this policy is quite complicated.  But they also show that 100 percent is a strawman and there are a lot of ins and outs and the reality on the ground is different than all the 100 percent rhetoric you hear from people, who let’s be honest do know better.  It’s not asking too much to ask that reporters get that stuff right though.

Finally, all this highlights a coming flash point in the No Child Left Behind reauthorization debate and what will likely be a gut-check moment for the Administration.  Suburban schools do not like policies that call attention to the shortfalls like the ones I just mentioned.  That’s why they’re happy when articles like today’s run because it makes everything sound so unreasonable.  I don’t think asking schools to get more than 6 in 10 kids proficient is all that unreasonable. 8 in 10 either for that matter, which is what Maryland will ask of schools next year.

Fairfax County superintendent Jack Dale’s suggestion in the article that we have an “adequate yearly progress” exemption for schools where 90 percent of the students pass the state tests makes a lot of sense as an interim measure- so long as that’s disaggregated by race, income, and so forth and not just an overall number. But that wouldn’t help many Fairfax County schools that are not making AYP because of the low performance by kids of color or students besides special education students.  And that’s a microcosm for the issue overall. We want to “win the future” but are we going to admit that right now in the present we have an achievement problem for low-income kids and kids of color and then confront it and improve?  Or are we going to continue to shoot various messengers and jump through hoops to obscure the problem.

No Child was hardly perfect as a policy when passed in 2002.  The ongoing stalemate on reauthorization is compounding some issues because the law wasn’t designed to run for 9 years.  But the law, and the kids it’s designed to look out for, got a bum rap from The Washington Post today.

12 Replies to “Too Good To Check, Part Deux!”

  1. Andy:

    they also show that 100 percent is a strawman

    The Law
    Section 1111 (b)(2)(F) Accountability–Timeline: Each State shall establish a timeline for adequate yearly progress. The timeline shall ensure that not later than 12 years after the end of the 2001-2002 school year, all students in each group described in subparagraph (C)(v) will meet or exceed the State’s proficient level of academic achievement on the State assessments under paragraph (3).

  2. Andy:

    The Washington Post ran a story this morning basically about how the No Child Left Behind accountability rules are soooo unfair.

    It makes it more difficult for the we, professional education reformers, to get the well-to- do to support our efforts when our efforts call the schools their kids’ schools “failures” because of subgroups.

  3. Andy:

    In fact, at this school, low-income students are lagging too (only half of them are proficient in math, fewer than in special education”

    Andy do you what the score was of those students who weren’t ranked proficient?
    I believe the cut-off is 70% on MSA. (It could be 60% believe or not).
    Assume 70%.
    What would you say if those students labelled “basic” scored 68%. Would that be the same cause for concern if instead they scored 20%?

    I’d like to hear from you, Andy.

  4. thank you, andy and charlie, for setting the record straight.

    i would add that it’s not helpful that such esteemed officials as senator alexander and chairman kline are making statements that are simply not in accord with fact.

    senator alexander says, “we need to get away from washington announcing whether schools are passing or failing.” there’s no such requirement in nclb. in fact, a legitimate complaint about nclb has been that it leaves the setting of performance standards and ranking of schools up to the states. as a result, many states have very high passing rates, and other states have much lower passing rates.

    the theory of action in nclb is simply that states can’t sweep disadvantaged students under the rug in whatever rankings and consequences they establish. if senator alexander doesn’t want to insist on that, what is the measure of the effectiveness of federal spending for education for the disadvantaged?

    given the senator’s statement, i wonder what he thinks of secretary duncan’s blueprint requirement that states rank all their schools and name a bottom 5% percent, which in many ways is more rigid than anything in nclb.

    Chairman kline says “we’re getting to the point where we’re going to have every school in the country failing.” where’s the evidence for that? i travel the country widely, and, while the percentages vary a lot, it appears generally that about 30% of schools are identified.

    there are several specific ways, legislative and/or administrative, that we can use to avoid massive over-labelling as we approach 2014, without undermining accountability. i see little discussion of such ways in the current debate and no discussion of preserving the key elements of acccountability.

    i have written an article for the harvard journal on legislation that will appear shortly. it discusses the remarkable academic gains disadvantaged students have made in the era of accountability and mentions fixes for going forward that protect the accountability that made these gains possible. i encourage the readers of eduwonk to read the article when it appears.

    in the meantime, it would be most helpful if leaders, journalists and stakeholders would stick to fact and reason in the discussion that leads up to reauthorization.

  5. Phillip #1:

    If only it were 2014 so you’d finally have a point. It is, however, still 2011 last time I checked, and schools aren’t required to hit 100% proficiency. Not only are the current proficiency targets smaller than 100%, but states/schools may also still utilize various loopholes to avoid having to hit proficiency for certain subgroups. As Andy says, the reality of the law is a bit more complicated than what the WaPo article and truthiness seekers such as yourself imply it to be.

    Considering that the chances of NCLB in its current iteration to remain in effect until 2014, without garnering important related changes, are slim to none, I agree with Andy that the “100% proficiency is too strict” argument is baloney.


    Phillip #2:

    There’s a nice English fail. What were you trying to say there?


    Phillip #3:

    You again miss the point. The article claimed this school would have made AYP had it not been for those meddling SPED students. Even a cursory glance at the cut scores of other subgroups at that school suggests there’s a bit more to it than that.

    Also, here you chide Andrew for not responding — like the hypocrite you are — even though you’ve been around long enough to know he rarely, if ever, enters the fray on his own comment forums. He would do well to continue ignoring you. I, however, get a kick out of making you look like a dumbass, so I’ll continue responding.

    On that note — care to provide the evidence for your last bout of trashy claims?

    There’s plenty more instances of this kind of evasion on your part. So how about following up on them? I’d really like to hear from you, Phillip.

  6. This coming from a guy that often references private parts in his replies to my arguments…

    No, you just spew libel out of all orifices and evade attempts to correct you. That’s a whole other level entirely.

  7. he article claimed this school would have made AYP had it not been for those meddling SPED students
    So, is that your view of the kids, or your view of the school’s view of the kids.
    Either way, far worse than a putz joke.

  8. It’s my equating of WaPo’s article to a Scooby Doo villain’s final words, actually. Too bad this episode is real.

    Are you going to keep evading the rest of my response? The part that shows that you’re an obtuse hypocrite and a nasty liar?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.