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NCLB's Accountability Rules Promote Dropouts, Study Finds

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Some advocates have been lobbying to make high school graduation rates part of NCLB's accountability system. The current emphasis on test scores gives high schools the incentive to shove low-scoring students out instead of addressing their achievement issues, they assert.

A new study out of Texas bolsters their case. The Rice University Center for Education tracked 271,000 students in one unnamed Texas city and found "strong association between high-stakes accountability and dropping out," according to this summary.

"This study has serious implications for the nation’s schools under the NCLB law," the summary concludes. "It finds that the higher the stakes and the longer such an accountability system governs schools, the more school personnel view students not as children to educate but as potential liabilities or assets for the school’s performance indicators, their own careers, or their school’s funding."

Read a brief recap in the Report Roundup column of the Feb. 20, 2008, issue of Education Week. Other stories of NCLB note in the issue:

McCain Emphasizes School Choice, Accountability, But Lacks Specifics (with blog items here and here)
NCLB Trumps IDEA, Appeals Court Rules (with a blog item here)
NCLB Restructuring Found Ineffectual in California (with a blog item here)

And don't miss When 'Unequal' Is Fair Treatment for an explanation of one district's efforts to reduce the achievement gap.

6 Comments

Our school is already measured on drop out rate. So our administration's answer to that problem is to not allow students in if they don't have a reasonable chance of graduating on time. From a measurement point, this sounds okay. But the problem is that we are a public school whose job it is to give students an opportunity to get an education until they are at least 18 years old. Maybe they won't get a diploma, but they can increase their reading comprehension, try to get caught up on math, learn some history, etc. Hopefully, they can learn enough to get a GED or continue on in adult school. But now, even at our level as a last ditch school, we are evaluating how our students will hinder us from meeting our AYP. Is this really want the public wants - students who are prevented from trying to overcome mistakes they made in 9th and 10th grade? If comprehensive high schools are pushing them out, and alternative schools aren't letting them in, what do we think these unproductive, unmotivated students will be doing while the rest of us are at work all day, leaving our homes empty and our cars unattended in parking lots.

There is really no problem too big or too small to be blamed on NCLB. I taught GED classes before NCLB and I had a large percentage of students who were "push-outs." Because my students were heavily incentivized to attend school by their dependence on public support (attendance was a requirement), I only had female students. But they were very heavily weighted in the direction of vague learning disabilities (that is they had received instruction in a Special Ed classroom--no on had ever explained to them the nature of their disability, they just believed that they were sort of generally dumb--as one explained to me). I also had students who were pushed out due to pregnancy (might be contagious). I even had students who were too young to legally be included in my classes without their home district's permission. They arrived with signed forms from their guidance counselor who attested that they were leaving school to "work" (apparently there was no concurrent requirement that they actually have a job), or to get a GED.

Now, I'll wager that some of these students simply disappeared from class, over time, and no one went looking for them. As long as the system incentivized enrollees more heavily than achievement, they were most likely kept on the rolls with some vague hope that they would--on their own--decide to come back. This has gotten much tighter--with state support determined by actual attendance during specified "count weeks," which means that kids get a wonderful week filled with pizza parties, wake-up calls, whatever.

NCLB does require that states implement one additional non-academic measure. My understanding is that in most states this measure is attendance in the lower grades, and graduation at the upper levels. So, I suppose that we can expect that there will be some movement--particularly as graduation is standardized as the number of 9th graders who graduate 4 years later--towards barring the doors before some kids get in.

But, is it possible that dishonesty and gaming the numbers is not CAUSED by NCLB--or other systems that evaluate based on numbers? Would we accept that student tests and grades are the cause of student cheating? To me, this is the same convoluted thinking as the people who believe that campuses full of unarmed students somehow "attract" mass killings.

As a parent of both a fifth grade boy and a girl in kindergarten I've been trying to educate myself on the viewpoints held by the various factions in the ongoing NCLB debate/debacle. It has been enlightening and has influenced my own personal views on the issue. I have through talking with teachers, principals and our state board of education have come to realize that a large disconnect between those mentioned and myself exists. That's not good.

Just the same, it is my contention, still, that I can do more as a parent to help my children in the learning process.

In some respects I see the merit for standardized learning but maybe not so much for standardized testing as a lever
for issuing funding. In fact, I may be in effect advocating for more standards to be put in place...for parents like me.

My frustration comes solely from the fact that on one hand if I am asked to participate and I try, I run the risk of "over participating" if I stray onto what is deemed the professionals turf.

Our local school is small and rural and scores poorly overall but has been making consistent gains. I know for a fact that I have made a difference in my sons perception of why he is there and what to make of it all. When I noticed that he wasn't bringing home any text books I asked if I could get a copy so as to follow along with his math studies(where he needs a little help and so did I when I was his age) and to provide me with the complete context instead of a just a copy of the pages out of the book. I can do the math but honestly sometimes I just didn't know what the question was. I was stuck.

Moreover, I wondered what was the mechanism that was failing to provide this small school with enough textbooks for the 75 kids total that attend it 7 years into the NCLB program.

As I stated before this is what led me on a little journey up the food chain and I will tell you that it is no wonder the perception exists that education needs to be improved upon in America.

If we all look inwardly first a bit I don't think anyone would iterate the words "I can't do any more to improve my kids education". I think then we can make an honest start towards a better education for our kids.

I'm far from finished with my endeavors and after I travel a bit more through cyberspace in an effort to round out my views I intend to start my own blog I will call...

"It should be a parent"

Oh and textbooks are in next years budget by the way. Isn't that a coincidence?

Hehe

Oh and to all of you on the front lines day in and day out...thanks!

I'm glad your post came on Friday, providing plenty of time to read the actual study.

Its also nice that I'm following a couple of posts by parents. And margo/mom I'm not stalking you even though it must like it. I think I post on the same topics because we are asking similar questions; we just ask from different perspectives and thus get different answers.

The dropout study concentrated on two sets of disgusting rules changes that enable schools to comply with hard accountability. One of its many strenghts is that it considered the hard evidence in conjunction with the views of principals, teachers and students. The principals, especially, felt conflicted between the harm they were doing to students and the need to protect their schools, not to mention their jobs. The damage was much worst because the victims were low performing freshmen and thus they (and their parents)didn't understand when or how or why they were succeeding or failing. They just found themselves out of the ball game.

NCLB supporters must understand that our educational problems were created by generational poverty created, in part, by generations of oppression. High poverty schools have suffered from generations of poor instruction, and the central offices of poor districts have suffered from generations of dysfunction. The big problems don't come from consciously evil decisions.

Inner city schools, as they exist today in a world of magnets and choice, must serve as surogate parents. Most teachers didn't sign on for that task. But even the teachers and principals who accept that challenge get overwhelmed. IN MY SCHOOL we are pushing out a lot of kids. But IN MY SCHOOL AND MY SYSTEM, we had a long history of sacrificing everything in order to keep kids in schools. You can say we had low expectations, and there is way too much truth in that statement, but we have to be fair. Administrators who may have been wrong in worrying too much about pushing kids out, did not suddenly change into monsters who are now intent on pushing kids out.

Neither should we blame parents. But as the study said, "Principals seemed to take this connection (the pushing out of struggling students in order to comply with hard accountability) for granted and were puzzled that we thought it had to be investigated."

The insanity surrounding the NCLB Act is truly ridiculous. NCLB is a BAD law and it does not add value. In fact, it does harm to students, teachers, our public education system, and our fragile democracy. NCLB uses fear and punishment and takes away value. But, NCLB has made and continues to make some people rich off the backs of our young and our teachers. Follow the money.

What is going on in the name of NCLB is not education or learning.

Yvonne Siu-Runyan, Ph.D.
Professor Emerita, The University of Northern Colorado

The insanity surrounding the NCLB Act is truly ridiculous. NCLB is a BAD law and it does not add value. In fact, it does harm to students, teachers, our public education system, and our fragile democracy. NCLB uses fear and punishment and takes away value. But, NCLB has made and continues to make some people rich off the backs of our young and our teachers. Follow the money.

What is going on in the name of NCLB is not education or learning.

Yvonne Siu-Runyan, Ph.D.
Professor Emerita, The University of Northern Colorado

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