Sunday, October 01, 2006

Measuring School Performance and School Choice

Ahhh... the great NCLB debate. The NY Times has another article comparing NCLB accountability standards with that of Florida's A-Plus plan, entitled As 2 Bushes Try to Fix Schools, Tools Differ

NCLB was a great start in providing a standardized accountability system. While it's helpful, NCLB has several flaws; the use of widely varying state tests as its measuring device (I am in favor of National Standards) and its AYP provisions that are almost guaranteed to eventually label every school in America as failing. I need to research Florida's A-Plus plan more, but this article certainly makes a great point on how it's plan and NCLB can look at the same school and come up with two different results:
R. J. Longstreet Elementary School here in Daytona Beach is an example. The tidy one-story building near the Atlantic Ocean has fallen short on the federal yardstick every year, but Florida has given it an A for five years straight.

It earned its latest A because on tests in spring 2006 tests 80 percent of students met “high standards” in reading, math and writing, and because 60 percent of students, and nearly 80 percent of the lowest-performing students, increased their scores. In August, the school received a $42,800 reward check.

“Congratulations on your outstanding performance,” Governor Bush wrote to the school.

But it fell short on 2 of 17 federal requirements, and that was enough to fail under the federal system. On a writing test administered to 55 fourth-grade students, 50 needed to show proficiency; 48 did. On math tests administered to 42 disabled students, 21 needed to score at grade level; 20 did.
It seems to me there are two different ways in which to rate schools: performance and progress. For example, consider the following illustration (assume the demographics are exactly the same):

School A has 70% of its students score advanced in (some random subject) at the beginning of the year. At the end of the year, 70% of its students advanced.

School B starts the school year with only 20% of the students scoring advanced and at the end of they year, 50% of the students are scoring advanced.

Which one is the better school? Which one would you rather send your kids to? If your child was already advanced, I suppose it wouldn't matter, but if your child started out as merely basic or proficient, then the choice is easy.

I don't think that a single letter grade can accurately sum up all schools. What we need as parents is more data. I want the before and after scores for every school, every class, every subject, and for each demographic. The more data we have as parents the more informed a decision we can make about our children's education.

I don't think that there is one model of school that is right for everyone. There are many arguments for and against school choice as it relates to market forces and school improvement, but I don't think that it should be the only reason for justifying school choice. Even in high performing districts, I believe that parents should be able to have the choice to make a decision as to what sort of education is provide to their kids.

One of the reason's our higher education system is envied in the world is because kids have a choice. They can choose between liberal arts schools, comprehensive public colleges, engineering schools, or any type of school out there. All types of institutions might provide an excellent education, but in different ways and in different areas.

Instead of having to choose between a high performing charter and a mediocre public school, wouldn't it be better if we could choose between two equally successful schools that stress different areas of expertise or different styles of learning.