Tag Archives: NCLB

We Have to Improve the School Improvement Process

It’s September 1. School is back in session in many places. And yet, state test results from last spring are still trickling out. Colorado’s are out today. The District of Columbia’s results officially came out on Tuesday. California’s results came out August 24th.

These results are too late for schools to do much with. Principals are busy running their schools, and teachers are busy in their classrooms. There’s no time for schools to draft improvement plans in response to results, let alone implement those plans in time to affect students. It’s no surprise that teachers and school leaders might not value a school improvement plan that’s drafted well into the school year, yet we’ve been repeating this cycle over and over again.

Ten years ago, I was a graduate assistant for College of William & Mary professor Paul Manna. We compiled every state’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) determinations for the 2005-6 school year, and we found that most states were releasing results in August or September, well past the time when they could be most helpful to school improvement planning. The graph below shows what we found. Each dot represented one state, plotted based on when they released their school results.

State test results timing_Manna graph

This was 10 years ago, and a lot has changed since then. In 2006, most states were in their first years of statewide testing programs. NCLB was in its infancy, and states were just starting up their accountability systems. They barely had processes in place to compile the results and make them public. Computers were a lot less powerful back then, and every state was testing its students using paper-and-pencil tests.

States have been doing all this for 10 years now. And most states have now moved their testing systems online. Theoretically at least, we should be able to get results back much faster than we were in the past. But that doesn’t seem to be happening. I’m afraid that if we created the same graph today as we did in 2006, it would look nearly identical.

These delays represent a big kink in the theory of action behind school accountability. Without timely information, states can’t identify which schools need to improve and why. We can’t dump information on teachers and principals right in the middle of back-to-school season and expect they’ll be able to do anything meaningful with it. It’s too late to design a school improvement plan, and it’s too late to tell parents and families, “Welp, that school we assigned your child to is no good. Too bad they already started 4th grade there.” If we want to help schools improve, we have to improve the school improvement process.

NCLB *Required* States to Look Beyond Reading and Math Proficiency. They Just Did It Poorly.

Yesterday I wryly noted that it’s weird to hear people say the new Every Student Succeeds Act gives states an “opportunity” to incorporate non-academic indicators in their accountability systems. In fact, ESSA requires it!

This isn’t even a new requirement. Although NCLB is lampooned for its focus on reading and math achievement, it also required states to hold schools accountable for “at least one other academic indicator, as determined by the State.” The law gave states wide discretion in picking additional indicators, and suggested a long list of possible options such as, “achievement on additional State or locally administered assessments, decreases in grade-to-grade retention rates, attendance rates, and changes in the percentages of students completing gifted and talented, advanced placement, and college preparatory courses.”

ESSA dropped the word “academic” and includes broader language requiring states to pick at least “one indicator of school quality or student success.” But given the wide latitude NCLB gave states and the long list of suggested ideas it offered, in practice there’s little difference between what was required under NCLB versus ESSA.

NCLB is history now, but it offers an important lesson going forward. Namely, states weren’t exactly innovative in deciding how to implement this requirement to create balanced accountability systems. 36 states and DC simply picked attendance rates (which had their own flaws), 6 states sliced their same reading and math achievement tests in different ways, 3 states let school districts choose their own measures, 1 state looked at school retention rates, and 4 states looked at test scores in other subjects (writing and science). If states were truly concerned about curriculum narrowing or over-testing or school environment issues, this was their opportunity to do something about it. And yet, they mostly chose not to.

We could see more of the same going forward. For all the talk about states developing new measures of “soft skills” because of ESSA, there’s nothing in the law that would force states to re-think their decisions on how to incorporate other indicators. I hope states take ESSA as an opportunity to upgrade their accountability systems, but history suggests many won’t.

Teacher Evaluation After ESSA: A Conversation With NCTQ’s Sandi Jacobs

Did states and districts move on teacher evaluation policy because of readiness or was movement a response to federal pressure? What will come of teacher evaluation now that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is law and federal pressure is gone? Specifically, which components of teacher evaluation may be up for debate? What should state policymakers be thinking about this legislative session when it comes to teacher evaluation? 

As part of our forthcoming work on teacher evaluation, Bellwether convened policy influencers, state and district leaders, and researchers to discuss these and other current issues, questions, and opportunities with teacher evaluation policies. Sandi Jacobs, Senior Vice President of State and District Policy at the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), attended our convening. The below transcript is an e-mail exchange between Jacobs and Bellwether’s Kaitlin Pennington that transpired after the meeting between late January and mid-February. The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Staff pictures for Bellwether Education, in Washington, DC, 10-27-2015. Photo by Toby Jorrin.

Staff pictures for Bellwether Education, in Washington, DC. Photo by Toby Jorrin.

Kaitlin Pennington: At the end of last year, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was reauthorized. The new law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) strips all federal requirements on teacher quality issues. When it comes to teacher policy, it’s hard to say how states may react to new flexibility or how quickly for that matter. However, shortly before ESSA passed, I predicted that under the new law, new teacher evaluation policy in states and districts would be especially vulnerable to attack. Then, barely one week after reauthorization, leaders in New York and Oklahoma altered the teacher evaluation systems in their respective states.

It’s no coincidence that both New York and Oklahoma quickly pulled back on using student achievement in teacher evaluation. If I was a betting person, I’d place money on the fact that there are likely several states lining up behind New York and Oklahoma to do the same thing. It’s not that I think teacher evaluation as we’ve known it for the last five to eight years will be a thing of the past, but I doubt student achievement will be a component—and definitely not a significant component—in the majority of states and districts due to the lack of federal oversight in ESSA.

NCTQ is known for all things teacher policy, and your most recent State of the States provides a comprehensive look at how states are evaluating teachers. So what do you think? What’s going to happen to teacher evaluation policy post-ESSA?

Sjacobs_HeadshotSandi Jacobs: I’m just not sure that the reauthorization of ESSA is going to have much impact on states’ teacher evaluation policies. There is a perception that ESSA has done away with requirements for teacher evaluation that were in No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and that is just not the case.  No version of ESEA has included a set of mandates around teacher evaluation.

Of course it is true that there was were some serious federal carrots and sticks around teacher evaluation, coming first with Race to the Top (RTT) and then with the ESEA waivers. And especially through the waivers, the feds certainly “encouraged” some states to move farther and faster on teacher evaluation than they really wanted or were ready to do. But it just isn’t my sense that that is the case for most states.

In our most recent scan in late 2015, we found just five states (California, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska and Vermont) that had no formal state policy requiring that teacher evaluations take objective measures of student achievement into account in evaluating teacher effectiveness. And only three states – Alabama, New Hampshire and Texas – had evaluation policies that existed only in their waiver requests. It was far from a secret that there were states doing nothing on teacher evaluation; Texas was far from quiet about it. Yet most states kept moving.

It is a certainty that states are going to continue to fine-tune their teacher evaluation requirements.  (Appendix B of our State of the States report attempts to capture the considerable amount of changes states have made just to the weight of student growth measures over the last five years; within all those changes we only found three states that no longer appeared to require it as a significant factor.) What remains to be seen is whether there will be wholesale backpedaling.

I’m cautiously optimistic. There will certainly be political pressure to roll back requirements in some states. The simultaneous implementation of new college- and career-readiness assessments and new teacher evaluation systems has been a significant challenge, one that has unfortunately amplified the pushback to each issue individually. But while much work remains on implementation, the policy landscape around teacher evaluation is completely transformed in this country, and that’s not going to be easy to undo.

And one more note – a teacher evaluation bill is currently moving in the Alabama legislature, one of the eight states that currently does not require student achievement to be part of teacher evaluations.

Kaitlin Pennington: I hear what you’re saying, but I’d like to push on a couple of things. Continue reading

Speed: Race to the Top’s Achilles Heel

A new study released today shows that Race to the Top (RTT)—President Obama’s K-12 education competitive grant program—resulted in major changes in education policy in the states that applied for the grant, whether they walked away with $700 million or no money at all. The study, conducted by the University of Chicago’s William Howell, found that before RTT, states enacted about 10 percent of proposed reform policies. After? Sixty eight percent.

RTT Policies

via William G. Howell/EducationNext

While education policy movement is usually described as incremental at best, Howell’s study found that RTT got states moving on K-12 initiatives, and fast. However, speed will likely be the Achilles heel of RTT. Continue reading

Schooling Isn’t Learning, the Rewards to Better Schools Are Enormous, and Other Observations from Eric Hanushek

Eric Hanushek

In the process of writing our recent paper on federal education policy, I spent time re-reading the academic research on school accountability in general and No Child Left Behind in particular. What struck me upon re-reading it was the disconnect between what the research says about the effects of school accountability–the literature tends to find it has small but significant impacts–and the national conversation about it.

As Congress prepares to consider legislation to reauthorize NCLB, I reached out to Eric Hanushek, the Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, to talk about his research on education and school accountability. Hanushek is a leader in the development of economic analysis of educational issues and has authored numerous, highly cited studies on the effects of class size reduction, high stakes accountability, the assessment of teacher quality, and other education related topics. His recent work shows that the quality of education is closely related to state and national economic growth.

What follows is lightly edited transcript of our conversation.  Continue reading