Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Is Your School Maximizing Its Progress Report Score? Accountability After the ESEA Waiver Part 3 of 3

On May 29th, New York State announced that the state was granted an ESEA waiver for the federal No Child Left Behind rules.  Those who just read the headline cheered that the NCLB rules were waived for New York.  After all, before the waiver, schools only had one year before students in the 2014 cohort would have to reach a perfect performance index of 200 to keep the school’s good standing.  Data Specialists and Principals let out a collective sigh of relief.   Did this break come without cost?  What did New York State schools actually get in this waiver and what was the cost for receiving it?

      First, a brief description of the changes in rules and calculations under the waiver:
      1) The AMO target of a perfect 200 Performance Index for the 2014 cohort is extended.  The new AMO target is designed to have schools make up half of the gap between their 2010-2011 performance index and the perfect score of 200 over the next 6 years.  Effective AMO and Safe Harbor targets were unchanged by the waiver.

       2) The levels for performance on high school exams have changed.  Previously, English and Math shared a definition of performance levels.  Under the waiver, college readiness now helps to define these levels.
Old Rules
New Rules
Level 4
Highest Regents score between 85-100
Highest Regents score between 90-100
Level 3
Highest Regents score between 65 – 84
English - Highest Regents Score between 75-89
Math – Highest Regents Score between 80-89
Level 2
Highest Regents score between 55-64 or RCT Pass for IEP students
English - Highest Regents Score between 65-74
Math – Highest Regents Score between 65-79
Level 1
Highest Regents score between 0-54 or RCT Fail
Highest Regents score 0-64, RCT Pass or Fail

The immediate impact of these new levels will be that performance index for (almost) every subgroup in (almost) every school will drop substantially this year

      3) Before the waiver, schools that did not make their target for an exam after 2 years would be classified as a School in Need of Improvement.  This reliance on performance index as the only metric used to define a School in Need Improvement, Corrective Action and Restructuring has ended under the waiver.  Priority and Focus schools will now be identified based on an expanded definition using performance index combined with low graduation rates (below 60% for multiple years).  Priority Schools will be determined and have until 2014-2015 to implement whole school reform.  Focus Schools are located in Focus Districts (districts containing priority schools) where the lowest performing students (performance index or graduation) are part of the focus identified subgroup.  A new category has been added for top performing schools.  Reward schools, the highest performing schools in the district, could be eligible for grant money to help their students.

As I read the waiver and the approval, I couldn’t help but categorize it into three parts - the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good – There are some very good elements to the waiver.  Schools have received relief from the impact of having to receive a perfect performance index, where every student must pass the English and Math Regents with a grade of 65 or more.  Another positive change is the removal of the graduation requirement being tied to the use of the Safe Harbor target.  The Safe Harbor target was designed for subgroups performing so far from the average performance index that the AMO and Effective AMO targets were not sufficient to measure their annual progress.  Safe Harbor is the lowest target for struggling subgroups (it could actually be the highest for successful subgroups), and  holding the same struggling subgroup to the graduation requirement often meant it that the Safe Harbor target could not be used to met AYP.  Also good news for schools is that the school now has 2 years to improve performance in any subgroup before it becomes a local assistance school.  The former rules only gave schools one year to improve before they went SINI.   Schools will receive more points for students who pass Regents at a college ready level of 75 for English and 80 for Math.  This matches the standards being asked for by many colleges and rewarding schools for their students meet more rigorous standards.  On a personal note, the good news is that the waiver provides a fresh look at the accountability rules under NCLB.  It also stirs my imagination on what type of reports we can design for you in Skedula and the NCLB portals.

The Bad – Schools will now only receive partial credit towards AYP when students pass the Regents but do not achieve a college ready score.  I do believe that college readiness should be rewarded, but students who meet the graduation requirement of a mark of 65 to 74 on English (65 to 79 on Math) will only earn half credit for the school toward Performance Index.  This means high school teachers and staff must convince freshmen that they must begin preparing for college at the age of 14.  Even though students will have the opportunity to take two more Regents exams in math, if the student does not earn the 80 on the Algebra exam, it is more than likely that they will not earn the 80 on the Geometry or Advanced Algebra exams.    Although I do believe that students should discuss and plan for their futures, the practicality of having every 14 year old student work at this level will be a struggle for schools, teachers and students.   The English exam will not prove to be the same struggle as the exam is taken by high school juniors, who are already thinking about college plans.   An additional piece of bad news for schools is even though the goal of reaching a Performance Index of 200 has been put off until 2017, the benchmark AMO target that must be met is calculated at the pre-waiver, higher performance indices, while the schools performance index is calculated on the new lower point values.  Students in the 2013 cohort who scored between a 65 and 79 in math then moved forward into higher math courses may now need to take a non-credit bearing course so the school can earn full credit toward their performance index.  Will the score of 80 prepare them better for college?  Definitely for CUNY, but only maybe for other schools who do their own placement testing.  This is a sudden shift for a cohort in their final year of high school.

The Ugly - I was a teacher in NYC for 10 years and became the school data specialist when the position was created by the DOE.  For years I taught a first period preparation class for the Math A and Algebra Regents.  Many of the students in my class were special needs students with an exam graduation requirement of marks of 55 or higher.  One year I taught a senior special needs student who had made the decision to start life anew – he was leaving drugs and gangs behind.  Most days for him were a struggle, some of his steps were backwards, but his counselors along with me and his other teachers worked with him every day to help pull him towards his new life.  At the end of the term, he scored a 57 on the Math Regents.  He was as proud as could be to meet his graduation requirement after all of his hard work.  Under the new NCLB waiver, my school would not earn points towards NCLB Performance Index for his success, even though it met his graduation requirement.  I am a data geek and understand the need for the state to set high goals to facilitate school improvement, but the human side of me knows that this isn’t the only way to measure and reward success.  He took my class in the fall of his senior year, and we could have forced him to take the class and exam again to earn the 65, but we let him go.  He earned his way out of the course by completing his graduation requirement - especially since college was not his path.  This is only one of many stories educators can tell where the good of the student is at odds with the good of the school’s data.  Here’s another - The school needed a student to pass the Living Environment Regents to guarantee an 80% graduation rate.  However, if she passed and earned the local diploma, she would be disqualified from her vocational training program for students with disabilities.  As I said, there are many stories like these.  The good of the school should never be in direct conflict with the good of the student.  Unyielding metrics such as the new NCLB college metrics ensure these conflicts will continue.  

The one given in education accountability is that it does remain static.   I remain hopeful that the designers of the metrics can find a balance to serve all of our students while making our schools stronger.

Stephanie Ring
Director of Accountability and Assessments