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A New Yardstick


As the debate over evaluating test scores continues, many schools across the country are shifting their method of evaluating student progress. More than two dozen states, including Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, and Ohio, are looking to a new way of analyzing test scores, called a “growth model,” which assesses individual student's progress as they advance from grade to grade instead of comparing them to the previous year’s class.

The model has been helpful in both urban areas where the student population includes at-risk children, as well as affluent communities which tend to attract top-performing children. While tests scores traditionally have been used to focus on low performing students, the growth model considers students at all levels, thereby putting pressure on high-performing schools that have yet to answer to test scores.

The growth model, however, does not have a universal appeal. Some teachers and parents feel the approach still places too much emphasis on test scores and they find the data incomprehensible. Said Aimee Bolender, president of the Alliance-AFT, which represents 9,000 teachers and staff from the Dallas school district, “You have to be a Ph.D. in statistics to even comprehend it.” Teachers’ unions like the growth model, but reject its use for performance reviews and merit pay. Said Bolender, “It’s detrimental for education. It’s pulling apart teams of teachers and it doesn’t look at why test scores are low.”

In response to the growing popularity of the growth model, Margaret Spellings, U.S. Secretary of Education, said in a statement, “We are open to new ideas, but when it comes to accountability, we are not taking our eye off the ball.”


And what was wrong with the old yardstick ... ?

Part of what is wrong with the new yardstick is that it is labor intensive and does require a higher level of skill in its use. Non-educational practitioners such as doctors,have an extended time for study and use of diagnostic tests. They also have at their disposal lab information feedback from an accredited lab, office workers to process paperwork, and an income that affords outsourcing household responsibilities. The gap here is in a reality check for those who expect the same service for children who may suffer math or reading ills but whose educational practitioner is expected to do much more with much less.

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