Measuring Academic Achievement

The House Education and Workforce Committee will continue its No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) reauthorization hearings tomorrow with an examination of growth models. Witnesses will discuss whether the use of accountability measures that measure growth in student performance can be effective in determining if schools are making adequate yearly progress in improving student performance across-the-board.

Educators and policymakers have embraced standards as a mechanism to ensure that every student, no matter what school he or she attends, masters the skills and develops the knowledge needed to participate in a global economy and complex world community. Currently NCLB calls for significant yearly progress in moving all students and sub-groups of students toward standards of proficiency in reading, math, and science. Yet it allows states to establish their own measurements of proficiency. Some states push students to aim high, while others settle for minimum benchmarks of “academic proficiency.”

Over 50 different measures of student performance exist in the United States. Each state chooses its own standardized test to measure achievement and each defines its own level of “proficiency” on that test. This variation not only demeans the meaning of proficiency from state to state, but makes it difficult for parents and teachers to accurately gauge how well their children are learning in comparison to their peers.

Many educators and policymakers believe there should be an additional alternative accountability measure that takes account of the degree of improvement in achievement made by all students, including all students in each of the subgroups. Using this alternative measure hinges on implementing a standard definition of annual improvement gains.

Current measures of accountability required by the No Child Left Behind Act do seek to ensure steady achievement gains for all students in all schools and these efforts should be applauded. Yet without national standards of achievement proficiency, measurements are too variable to be meaningful.

Accountability for results is critical to ensuring a high-quality education for all students. As the House Education and Workforce Committee discusses growth models tomorrow, it must ensure that measures of success will hold everyone in the educational system, regardless of location, accountable to the same high standards.

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