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Accountability Should Deemphasize Test Scores, Researcher Argues


In most conversations about the future of NCLB, policy wonks and politicians point to growth models as the fix for what ails the law's accountability system.

But researcher Helen F. Ladd suggests that growth models probably aren't enough. In a commentary in the current issue of Education Week, Ladd writes: "Test-based accountability has not generated the significant gains in student achievement that proponents—however they perceived the problem to be solved—intended."

Instead, she proposes that accountability systems should assess students in core subjects—not just reading and mathematics, as NCLB does. Schools would be judged against "realistically obtainable gains in student performance." In addition to test scores, independent teams that would "evaluate school[s] on a far broader set of outcomes than student test scores alone."

The approach is expensive, Ladd acknowledges, but probably would deliver results that would be worth the cost. "It is time for policymakers and researchers to engage in serious investigation of this alternative model of accountability," she concludes.

With NCLB's renewal starting again from scratch, perhaps these ideas will emerge in the debate. Ladd's essay is based on a November lecture, which you can read here.

Also in current issue of Education Week, the Federal File mentions the first stop of Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings' pro-NCLB tour. She found some support from Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, a Democrat. Spellings made other stops in Oregon and southern California. But this week she's in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum.


"Finally, in a recent study of achievement gaps in North Carolina, my Duke colleagues
and I have uncovered a pattern for blacks that suggests that accountability in NC may have
raised achievement for blacks at the bottom of the distribution but lowered it at the top of the
distribution (Clotfelter, Ladd, and Vigdor, forthcoming)"
These words cound not have rang truer in the case of my son. In second grade he "topped off" the local reading assessment reading at a level U, the assessment ranges from from letters A-V, which then correlated with a grade level. Letter U is a 5th grade level.
He is now in 5th grade and still at the Houston County Literacy Inventory (HCLI) letter U. Nobody can explain why my son has not progressed.
I truly believe the school system implemented a reading program that would "cap" the top readers while inadvertently not challenging the good readers, which would allow poorer readers from the mainly lower socio economical schools to catch up....Thus closing the achievement gap between the dissaggregate groups. I hope having this paper and research from Ms. Ladd, will help to validate my concerns when I meet with the county's reading director.

I have three children and they are so different that I was going in different directions for all of them.

One is an advanced reader and he also read very well in 2nd grade. So to make sure he got the advanced reading material he needed we made trips to the local library to get books that were at his more advanced level. He has progressed fantastically.

Then we have our 'average' child. She does not have any problems like my child with learning disabilities. She does not need special instruction or acceleration.

Then I have a child with learning problems. I should say "had". Thank GOD for the reading teachers who get it! She was having such a rough time and the school just thought she had an attitude or behavior problems. But then school gave her special reading classes every day and in 1-1/2 years, she is at grade level or a little above. Before that she was way below grade level. She is a great student now.

She now reads what her sister read when she was in the same grade, she just read "The Awakening" which is a sixth grade book and my girl is in fifth grade and she wants to read more. So we will be making many more trips to the library for her and my son. It is so odd how we expected her to be the poorest student and she turned out to be on the same track as my brightest child.

If you do not have a public library in your area, there are now on line libraries that will give your son access to all the books he needs to meet his advanced needs so that he can progress. Good luck!

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