Thursday, February 12, 2015

It Depends On What You Mean By Accountable

Chad Alderman:

To see how a move away from annual testing would affect subgroup accountability in other cities, I pulled data from Providence, Rhode Island and Richmond, Virginia. The results confirm that a move away from annual testing would leave many subgroups and more than 1 million students functionally “invisible” to state accountability systems.

As a reminder, No Child Left Behind focuses attention on the progress of groups of students within schools. To be confident that the test results aren’t pulled up or down by a few students and to minimize year-to-year variability, states usually imposed minimum group sizes of 30 or 40 students.

Both Rhode Island and Virginia used relatively high group sizes under NCLB–Rhode Island used a group size of 45 and Virginia used 50. As part of the NCLB waiver process, which allowed states to use relative ranking school accountability systems as opposed to more of a relative ranking system and less of a formulaic trigger, both Rhode Island and Virginia lowered their group sizes. Rhode Island lowered its group size all the way down to 20, and Virginia dropped its group size to 30 students. After these changes, both Virginia and Rhode Island estimated that far more students and subgroups would “count” under their new rules. ...

To see the effects in Rhode Island, I applied Rhode Island’s group size of 20 students to the city of Providence. Providence is relatively poor and has a large number of Hispanic students, and even under a grade-span approach where schools were only accountable for the performance of, say, 5th graders, all schools in the district had enough low-income and Hispanic 5th grade students for the groups to count. But only six out of 22 schools would be accountable for black students, only eight would be accountable for English Learners, five for students with disabilities, and only one for white students.

Without annual test results and under Rhode Island’s old group size of 45, 0 Providence schools would have been accountable for black, white, or students with disabilities.

This all sounds pretty dire, unless you understand that by "invisible" Alderman means "not plugged into the algorithm that spits out a school rating." If you look at publicly reported NECAP scores, you'll see that RI reports groups sizes down to 10 and has for years. The data is not invisible, in fact, it has always been even more visible than the subgroup size Alderman recommends.

Alderman's argument only holds up or is even relevant insofar as you believe "accountability" must be an externally imposed, automated, algorithmic process, as opposed to, say, a system of periodic and ongoing review and inspection by stakeholders at the school, district and state level.

1 comment:

Leroy's Mom said...

I'll say it again, testing is a really expensive and inefficient way to measure income gaps in students, but if you're not going to "throw money at the problem" it's an alternative.