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NCLB: Kress & Petrilli Clash Over Impact Of Subgroups

ScreenHunter_16 Apr. 21 08.26 On Tuesday, Fordham's Mike Petrilli (right) posted a blog entry titled Fact-checking Sandy Kress which took issue with Kress's claims that the Obama (and Fordham) idea of backing off subgroup accountability for all but the worst-performing schools is a very bad idea.  (In fact, according to Petrilli, subgroup gains petered out relatively early in the 2000's -- not long before Petrilli switched sides on NCLB and declared he was against it.)  Kress (left) responded with the email below, in which he reiterates his claim that disabled and bilingual kids did better under NCLB than in the past and that subgroup accountability should be retained for everyone as it currently is in NCLB.    There's also a Hechinger Report interview with Kress here.

I hope everyone is ready to get wonkish!

Let's deal with the easy part - gains on the Long Term Trend for students with disabilities (SWDs) and English Language Learners (ELLs) from 2004-2008. This is squarely within NCLB time. 

9 year old SWDs improved a half grade level (5 points) in reading. 

9 year olds ELLs improved almost a grade level (8 points) in reading. 

9 year old SWDs improved over a half grade level (6 points) in math. 

9 year old ELLs improved 3 points in math. 

13 year old SWDs improved 3 points in math. 

13 year old ELLs improved over a half grade level (7 points) in math. 

13 year old SWDs improved almost a full grade level (9 points) in reading. 

13 year old ELLs improved 2 points in reading. 

Now, since Mike is enamored of the Main NDE, let's look at that data:

For 4th grade math, it is true that SWDs had an incredible jump from 2000 to 2003, from 200 to 216. I don't want to argue this was due to NCLB, but, since there's almost a full academic year since the summer of 2002 in this data, I would suggest that this bridge period probably shouldn't be used for a pre and post analysis. 

In any event, 4th grade SWDs have gone up 7 points since 2003, which is a gain of over a half a grade level. 4th grade ELLs had that nice pop in 2003, too, but also have grown an additional half grade level since. 

It is incontestable that something unusual happened in NAEP testing between the late 1990s and 2002 and 2003, first a drop and then an unusual increase. I can't explain it, and I suspect Mike can't either. I invite thoughts from any and all of you on that topic. 

Nevertheless, it is heartening to see that 4th grade ELLs have improved over a half grade level in reading since 2002, and SWDs have improved almost a half grade level as well. 

The same pattern of a pop in 2003 occurs in 8th grade math with further gains for SWDs and ELLs after 2003. Reading at the 8th grade level is stagnant. 

Even with all this back and forth on data, which I'm happy to continue with anyone who is interested, I stand fully behind my thesis: consequential accountability, which began in many states in the mid-1990s and was extended and deepened by NCLB, works! Any weakening of its pillars threatens the progress we've made. 

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Theere is no reason to question the obvious, common sense explanation for widespread drops early in NCLB. Tt was the recession!

Accountability hawks can try to claim the credit of 1990s for districts that did not adopt their policies, as well as those that did. But again, it was the economy! During the boom, schools improved.

Any way you cut it, data-driven accountability has failed.

I've recently been going over NAEP pre- and post-NCLB signing. With almost no exceptions, the rate of improvement pre-NCLB is greater than post-NCLB, on both Main and Long-term Trend NAEP. That slowdown indicates that NCLB has not contributed to the acceleration in improvement (in scores and gaps) that NLCB proponents claim.I'll post this up I hope next week to the FairTest website at http://www.fairtest.org.

Switching the argument from NCLB to a more generic 'standards-tests-accountability' argument does not itself explain whether NLCB worked.

It is certainly true that prior to the rise that began in the mid-late 1990s, there were rapid increases at some points (both in scores and in gap-closing). The Civil Rights Project thinks the earliest and in many ways largest of those leaps occurred due to the positive benefits of desegregation and attendant better improved school funding for Blacks and Hispanics. Declines in overall, Black and Hispanic scores from the late 80s into the 90s (with variations in when and how declines occurred by subject and grade)also deserves explanation. In posts on the National Journal blog, I suggested funding patterns could contribute, Kress dismissed that, but in fact neither of us produced evidence. Since things like school funding and poverty could well matter but might well have lagging effects, this would not be at all easy to parse out.

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