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Index Fun: Will It Be Part of the Future?


One intriguing idea in the Forum for Education and Democracy's report Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader is the proposal for a "continuous progress index."

NCLB takes a variety of measurements—test scores in reading and math, test participation rates, and other indicators such as science scores, attendance rates, etc. If a school fails to meet their goal in any of them, it fails AYP. The Forum report calls the NCLB method a "confusing statistical gauntlet" that is unfair to schools.

It should be replaced by a single measurement that combines the results of various factors, such as scores on tests measuring "higher-order thinking and understanding," progress students are making toward graduation, and "diagnostic information," the report says.

NCLB hawks have opposed indexes. Combining information from a variety of sources could cover up significant weaknesses in the school, they argue.

But they may be changing their tune. When I talked to Kati Haycock of the Education Trust about the forum's premise that the time is ripe for major changes in the federal involvement in K-12 policy, she said she's contemplating the type of index she might support in the next version of NCLB. "I don't see anyway around it," she said. It's the best way to incorporate other subject areas into accountability without adding new complexities to to AYP. The trick, she said, will be finding a way that a cumulative index score gives an accurate portrayal of a schools' performance.

We didn't talk about the specifics of the Forum for Education and Democracy's proposal. Neither of us had read the report at that point. Frankly, the report doesn't provide enough specifics for someone as thorough as Kati Haycock to take position on.

With Haycock and the forum both thinking of ways to make an accountability index part of NCLB's future, there's a good chance it will happen.


An index can be constructed that provides crisper clarity than the current conjunctive rules under AYP. The mathematical trick is (a) to standardize each measure to a common scale and distributional form before building the index and (b) to assure that each measure has enough points in its scale to permit useful discrimination. Those two requirements assure that each measure in the index formula can start with equal importance.

The hard part comes next, assigning appropriate weights to each measure. The weights capture the importance of the issue each measure is standing in for. In a real world that is never easy. Agreeing on the form of the index calculations (additive, multiplicative, mixed) is nearly as difficult. Lastly, no final determination about the index formula should be agreed to before conducting numerous simulations.

As a cautionary note, it may make more sense to build more than one index. Student academic performance, growth or school improvement is driven by just a few things; each is complex. So are our expectations. Keeping score separately on (say) performance, capacity, and expectations can be useful. Baseball doesn't use one index; neither does Wall Street.


More good news!

Not knowing Kati Haycock personally, but hearing her values, I would hope she would leap at the deal, accepting a "continuous performance index" in return for a "opportunity index." Jim Ryan presented an equally sensible recommendation for NCLB II in proposing that AYP be changed to provide ranking info. Tom Toch just recommeneded an equally sensible approach with AYP becoming an incentive-driven approach. The NYC's UFT just proposed a 360 degree evaluation that sounds similar to the Froum for Democracy proposal. I would need help from people like Arie in understanding the details of those plans. But people of good will could work these issues out.

The Ed Trust and others invested a lot of energy in denying that proposal like an Opportunity Index would help kids. They invested a lot in denying the research from the Coleman Report to Richard Rothstein to the new evaluations of NCLB. But its time to let it go. Its time to ask, do we want to help kids or do we want to spread blame and shame?

And if accountability hawks still think that they can minimize the effects of economic reality on schools, they just need to watch the next couple of school years. When the economy goes down like it is now, student performance of low-income kids will follow. Rather than prepare for another two year's of rear-guard action blaming others for NCLBs failure, its time to think anew.

Besides, get rid of the punitive nature of AYP, and why wouldn't we able to forge a grand consensus?

As cynical as this may sound, I believe the federal government's interest lies in the education process because of the billions of dollars it allocates to US DOE programs and Title I grants every year.
It seems that NCLB targets Title I schools, and non Title I schools by ensuring schools have high quality teachers, increased graduation rates,AYP,and standardized testing. (All of which non Title I schools were most likely to accomplish without NCLB)
Uneducated populations are functional parts of society in that they generate economic gains for the hundreds of thousands publishers, consultants, test makers, teaching gurus, specialized teachers, aides, learning tools, technology, computer programs, etc. Education is big business. A paradigm shift would require a majority of jobs not associated with failing populations. However that is not likely to happen. Perhaps when we begin to focus on creative and innovative jobs in the US than education may simply fall into place.
P.S. I hope somebody invites Dr. Joyce Epstein to the Round Table.

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Recent Comments

  • Kathy: As cynical as this may sound, I believe the read more
  • john thompson: David, More good news! Not knowing Kati Haycock personally, but read more
  • Arie van der Ploeg: An index can be constructed that provides crisper clarity than read more



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