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How NCLB is failing the laugh test


Dec 17, 2004
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Here in Maryland and throughout the nation , our prestigous public schools are entering the dreaded testing season. This is when tenured teachers unfamiliar with the way a large centralized government truly works are actually nervous that their school will be labeled a failure. After that, they might be held accountable. Little do they know that in today's world that means more money now, and a threat to do something later, maybe. Thus, they prepare their students for the most important test of the year, the Maryland School Assessment (MSA). Each state is allowed to set its' own standards and testing regime, but basically they're all the same. No Child Left Behind is supposed to be a revolutionary wave of change in how we approach education. First, we were to set the standard that every child can learn, and it was our duty not to fail her/him. Next, we were to establish benchmarks from the current level of achievement all the way to: 100% proficiency in reading and math by the end of the 2013-2014 school year. In practice this meant having a target score each year both for all students, and for each of 8 sub-groups. The important change was that each sub-group which includes the various racial categories, low-income students, and those receiving special services (whose Individualized Educational Program is attuned to the regular curriculum) needed to make steady progress each year in both reading and math, and ultimately reach 100% proficiency. Schools had to reach these Annual Measurable Outcomes (AMO's) in order to attain satisfactory Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and stay off of the Needs Improvement list. In the past, a school's overall test scores could mask various groups of students doing poorly. For those inclined to believe in a government system for education this sounds good right? No more avoiding poor performing groups within a school, county or state, and finding a fair way to measure whether we are getting our money's worth out of education, right? Take a look at the Revolution in Maryland for 2004:

Percent of students needed to test proficient in reading (2004 AMO's)

Maryland: 45.9%

Next year it is scheduled to rise, depending on the testing situation into the mid to upper 50's.

Even with these low targets, needing less than 50% of its' students to reach a score deemed proficient in reading for example, many counties or schools failed to reach that level in many sub-groups , but still MET the AMO's, and were labeled as making AYP. How is that?

The wonders of statisticians!

Even though the target may be 45.9, depending on the size of the population taking the test, the state has developed a Confidence Interval (CI) to judge the actual percentage with the AMO to determine if statistically the goal was met within a 95% accuracy. So for a typical school

Brandywine Elem in Prince George's County

AMO for reading: 46.3% proficient or above

actual scoring proficient 45.2% for free/reduced lunch students

confidence interval 26.2% - 66.4%

results: met goal

That's right, even though the AMO was 46.3%, the CI for 42 students allowed any number over 26.2% to reach the goal.

You might say, well 45 is close to 46 , so it should count. But what about:

Chevy Chase elem in Mongomery County:

AMO for reading: 46.3%

actual scoring proficient 33.3% in limited English

confidence Interval 10.8 - 81.8%

results: met goal

So for the 15 students who were classified as having Limited English, the No Child Left Behind Act allows that only 5 of them needed a proficient score to meet the goal this year.

Each year the AMO targets are due to rise, but because of statistical figuring, there will always be a lower target score than the advertised number due to a (confidence interval) range that is there to determine within 95% assurance that a particular score has/hasn't met the goal.

The end result of all these tests to hold our state, districts, and school's accountable:

The state of Maryland met every AYP for every group and sub-group for reading and math except for Special Education.

Montgomery, Baltimore County, Fredrick County, and many others met every AMO for each sub-group.

Prince George's County likewise, except for math among Free-reduced students.

One can look at these results in many ways. In the context of Revolutionary change isn't one of them. It is good politics to say our schools are getting better, and incumbents will be able to say just that for at least the next few years, no matter what. In fact, looking at the scoring patterns for most counties, and the rules that govern the reporting and statistics involved, almost all schools are GUARANTEED to make AYP in almost every category for at least the next 3 years. How can I make that claim? I'll choose a county truly at random (you'll have to trust me, the 5th one in alphabetical order):

Calvert County:

This year they met all AYP for all sub-groups. A look at the reading scores shows in proficiency:

78% all students

75% American Indians

56.9% African Americans

82.3% white (not hispanic)

82.8% hispanic

53.8% free/reduced lunch

42.4% special education (using CI)

58.6% limited english

The math is similar, you can visit:

http://www.mdreportcard.org to see the results for yourself.

Remember, one of the purposes of NCLB was to help all students make yearly progress, yet these students can all score the exact same way next year, and the county will reach it's goals again. That's because this year the AMO was around 46% and next year it will be around 57% according to the same website for the schools in that county. For instance Dowell Elem in Calvert County had

76.8% of it's students proficient in reading. They easily passed the thresh-hold of 37.9% that was needed because of their low number of students taking the test (237). So even with the 2005 AMO of 57.8 the CI will be approx. 46% at the low end, so they can score the same 76.8% for years to come and still meet the goal. That means for the foreseeable future 23.2% of the students in a GOOD SCHOOL can be left behind without any notice or attention because of how the testing regime was designed. It also allows poorer performing schools more time to bask in the undeserved glory of reaching the AYP for years to come.

This schedule might be acceptable were the AMO's beginning at 65% or 70% and then proceeding to 100%. However they began in the 2002 testing cycle in the 40's.

We all laughed when President Clinton stated "it depends on what the meaning of the word 'is" is.

Yet, the meaning of "high standards" in Maryland in 2004 was 37% being labeled proficient in reading.

It doesn't take a genius to know that as the AMO's rise each year, more good schools will become in jeopardy of being labeled failing or needing improvement, especially due to the various sub-groups. However, the ecometrics show that this won't happen for another 3-4 years after SOMEONE we know will be out of office. Then, I predict, magically,

OTHERS will have a great idea....

It will be the only fair thing to do for students, teachers and schools who are really doing a good job...

Craig Farmer

making the word "liberal" safe again

DISCLAIMER: I am against NCLB and any other plan to increase government's role in the delivery of education. I believe in universal access while creating a viable market-place. Parents should determine whether any individual schooling situation is succeeding or failing their child. They can enforce accountability by taking their education dollars elsewhere. In the current environment however there is a code of silence about NCLB that has developed with the Leftists don't want any real standards in public schools , and the Republicans and Right-wing who want to support the President. The job is left to me to point out the whole system is a fraud.
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