New system of accountability

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Moving Forward

By Keith Davis

If we had a normal class of children where 87% of the students are making a failing grade, I would wonder if the problem was with the person presenting the material.
You may notice I didn’t say teacher, because in order to really be a teacher, a student has to learn what it is that the teacher is supposed to have taught.
We don’t have this problem because we have solid, sensible, caring teachers who will do what it takes to make sure students understand what they need to understand to progress to the next level.
No Child Left Behind was a terrific law that focused schools’ attention on achievement gaps and pushed to increase proficiency.
It made a positive difference and changed what President Bush termed “the soft bigotry of low expectations” where some schools just wrote large groups of kids off as un-teachable.
Now, however, we are seeing proof that, within the existing time and resource structure (and individual student motivation and parental support), 100% of students will not reach state defined proficiency in reading and math.
It was and is a laudable goal, but it led to a lot of game-playing where some states redefined proficiency downward (dumbing down the expectations) so they could meet their goals under federal law.
Kentucky – to its credit – did not reduce the standard, but we are paying the price in public support when 87% of school districts, including some of the highest performing, are labeled as failing when instruction and student achievement is better than it has ever been. Such is the politics of education.
A new system of state accountability will be in place for this coming spring and, while it is clearly not perfect, it is vastly superior to NCLB and the past state accountability model because it appeals to common sense.
The basic idea of what the state is calling Unbridled Learning is that a major part of our schools’ job is to prepare our students to enter college ready to take credit bearing courses without remediation, or to be ready to enter a career.
To me, this makes so much sense it is almost too good to be true. It gives us a real focus, and more importantly, it will engage our students in thinking about their future much earlier than many of them seem to at present.
This system consists of five components measured differently at the elementary, middle, and high school level.
The components include: Achievement, Gap, Growth, College or Career Readiness, and Graduation Rate.
For elementary schools, Achievement will be measured by tests in reading, mathematics, science, social studies, and writing. Math and reading will be tested in grades 3 through 5, writing (including writing mechanics) in grades 4 and 5, science in grade 4, and social studies in grade 5 using a nationally standardized test that is still in development by the state contractor.
Gap refers to different groups of students, such as students qualifying for free lunch, African American students, and students with learning disabilities as compared to the entire tested group with the ideal of no gap between the performances of the various groups. We will be accountable for decreasing the gap each year. Growth will be measured in reading and mathematics from one grade level to the next.
For instance, did this year’s 5th graders make a year’s worth of progress when compared to last year’s 4th graders? College/Career and Graduation Rate do not count for elementary.
For middle schools, Achievement will be measured by the same subject tests as elementary. Math and reading will be tested in grades 6 through 8, writing in grades 6 and 8, science in grade 7, and social studies in grade 8. The Gap and Growth portions will be the same as elementary. College/Career Readiness will be measured in 8th grade with the ACT Explore assessment in the fall. Graduation Rate will not count for middle schools.
High schools are where a lot of change is happening. Achievement will be judged by tests taken at the end of English II, Algebra II, Biology, and U.S. History. These “End of Course” assessments are being developed by ACT and will count as 20% of the student’s class grade.
The idea is to give high school students a reason to do their best (something missing in previous assessment systems).
Gaps will be measured using the same end-of-course assessments by comparing the groups taking the test.
Tenth grade students take the PLAN test and 11th graders take the ACT test. To get a schools Growth score, the state will measure the improvement between the two tests. College and Career Readiness is simple to explain, but takes a lot of words, so I will save that for next month.
Suffice it to say that this is the biggest deal – starting in 2015, a student has to be ready for college or a career in order to receive a diploma from BCPS.
Finally, Graduation Rate will be determined by how many students graduate from high school as compared to how many started as 9th graders.
Though long, this is the short version. If you are interested, you can visit my blog site where I have a link to the full explanation of the new accountability model. The web address is: http://blogs.bullittschools.org/keithdavis/.
The most important thing to remember is that the name of the game is getting our students ready for college or for a meaningful career. Everything we do – from teaching students to add and read, to our athletic programs, and our extremely valuable programs in the arts – should support the end result of a student ready to go into the adult world ready for success.