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Join a Chat about Testing and Accountability in the NCLB Era: Tuesday, August 19th, 3-4pm

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On Tuesday, David Figlio - an economist who does great work on the intended and unintended consequences of accountability systems - and I will chat with Ed Week readers about testing and accountability. The event description is below, and you can submit questions here:
Raising student achievement has long been a major issue in the American public education system. But with the advent of the No Child Left Behind Act and its testing mandates, even more attention has been directed towards this issue. As states release their annual school report cards, testing and accountability have once again emerged as hot topics of debate, with New York City Public Schools receiving considerable scrutiny of late.

Consequently, many observers have questioned whether state testing and accountability systems are accurately depicting student performance and the size of the achievement gap between groups.
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Consequently, many observers have questioned whether state testing and accountability systems are accurately depicting student performance and the size of the achievement gap between groups.

Are these "observers" also questioning whether gravity causes objects to fall towards the earth? People are free to pose any questions they like but the act of asking questions, by itself, doesn't grant gravitas to the questions themselves.

Do these "observers" believe that student achievement and the achievement gap were more accurately measured in the era of infrequent and gamed testing and subjective assessment practices? Do these "observers" believe that the achievement gap has come about as a result of testing?

I'd like to meet some of these "observers" and directly ask them to explain the basis for their questions, for on face value they seem quite ridiculous.

Hi TangoMan,

You should submit the questions below to the chat:

Do these "observers" believe that student achievement and the achievement gap were more accurately measured in the era of infrequent and gamed testing and subjective assessment practices? Do these "observers" believe that the achievement gap has come about as a result of testing?

My own take, in two sentences, is that high-stakes accountability systems can lead to an underestimation of the size of the achievement gap because they focus on a narrow set of skills and are prone to inflation (i.e. teachers teaching a narrow set of the skills reflected in state standards such that it's no longer possible to make valid inferences from test scores about students' overall mastery of state standards), have strong floor and ceiling effects, etc. And there continues to be a vigorous debate over whether accountability systems attenuate, maintain, or exacerbate existing gaps - the short answer is "it depends." Come to the chat for the long answer;)

My own take, in two sentences, is that high-stakes accountability systems can lead to an underestimation of the size of the achievement gap because they focus on a narrow set of skills and are prone to inflation

That's not a bug, that's a feature! Probably unintended, but something that will be exploited to the maximum.

teachers teaching a narrow set of the skills reflected in state standards such that it's no longer possible to make valid inferences from test scores about students' overall mastery of state standards

That's not a problem with accountability systems, but a problem with a poorly designed accountability systems. Poorly designed accounability systems are not required under NCLB, to the contrary, here is the statutory language:

NCLB gives the states plenty of leeway to craft their own "challenging academic content standards" that must be "in academic subjects that--(I) specify what children are expected to know and be able to do; (II) contain coherent and rigorous content; and (III) encourage the teaching of advanced skills." (Section 1111(b)(1)(D)(i))) and "challenging student academic achievement standards" which must be "(I) [] aligned with the State’s academic content standards; (II) describe two levels of high achievement (proficient and advanced) that determine how well children are mastering the material in the State academic content standards; and (III) describe a third level of achievement (basic) to provide complete information about the progress of the lower-achieving children toward mastering the proficient and advanced levels of achievement" (Section 1111(b)(1)(D)(ii))). States must also enact an Accountability System (defined in 1111(b)(2)) that assures the state is making adequate yearly progress "toward enabling all public elementary school and secondary school students to meet the State’s student academic achievement standards, while working toward the goal of narrowing the achievement gaps in the State."

I don't see where the statute mandates teaching only a narrow set of skills, though that is certainly what many states have done.

Hi, I was on the chat yesterday and would like to follow up on your reply to my question regarding refocusing efforts on student learning and on the individual student. Any thoughts on how can that be accomplished across the board?

At present, it seems that the only students with IEPs or with a closer to 1:1 throughput are those in special ed or gifted ed programs, which, unfortunately, leaves the vast majority of public school students without a proverbial paddle. The capability to assess, measure and advance individual student progress is there, but the capacity to handle the volume apparently hasn't caught up or been prioritized accordingly. Thanks

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  • TREllison: Hi, I was on the chat yesterday and would like read more
  • KDeRosa: teachers teaching a narrow set of the skills reflected in read more
  • TangoMan: My own take, in two sentences, is that high-stakes accountability read more
  • eduwonkette: Hi TangoMan, You should submit the questions below to the read more
  • TangoMan: Consequently, many observers have questioned whether state testing and accountability read more

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