Lashing Out Against NCLB: Data an Important Factor When States Take a Stand

States Test Education Law: Officials Frustrated With No Child Left Behind Try to Substitute Their Own Plans was Tuesday’s headliner on the education page of the Wall Street Journal. A similar article, S.D. looks for new way to judge schools: Student performance System would replace No Child Left Behind, written by Josh Verges of the Argus Leader, raises the issue once again that States are tired of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) laws.

The articles suggests that States believe NCLB is broken due to its demands on narrowing school curricula through an increased emphasis of standardized tests. The article also mentions that the NCLB law has been up for renewal since 2007 with the expectation of a bipartisan effort to revise it by the end of 2011. However, the political environment has not allowed for this complete undertaking. While it is not the objective of States to tell what the federal government should do with its regulations and power, it is their objective to substitute state-driven accountability systems policy for what already exists in the law.

According to the article, 40 States are working with national organizations like the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), and are seeking to “replace adequate yearly progress with a model that evaluates the growth of individual students in stead of comparing one year’s students to the next,” stated Verges.

The data community recognizes the benefits of a statewide approach. However, it is important for States to understand that there are several data implications of the proposed policy that affects the way student achievement and outcomes are measured. The articles indicate that States want to create a fair accountability systems that cater specifically to their demographic. States also want to implement systems that measure schools by growth in student test scores.

Most policymakers and lawmakers agree that using and obtaining the most accurate information is detrimental in order to make sound decisions that improve student performance. It is true that schools and States desiring to be accountable also requires that they use certain tools and resources in order to identify what needs to be measured and the implication of those measurements.

In other words, if States want to create and govern their own accountability standards, it is important for policymakers to begin conversations about how and what information they should collect, measure, analyze, and evaluate in terms of longitudinal data. I am all for creating local solutions to deal with discrepancies in the law. However, I do feel that any type of reformation needs to be supported by research, data, and evaluation of that data.

Without data-supported reformation programs, States may end up going with recent trends and fads instead of considering the results of longitudinal studies. This situation reminds me of education policy provisions made in California when former Governor Schwarzenegger and President Clinton worked hand-in-hand to promote small classroom sizes. Based upon research gathered, California State lawmakers initiated a policy requiring all schools to decrease the number of children in their classrooms to 20. The reason behind the implementation of this law was based on the results of a study, demonstrating that fewer students in the classroom resulted in higher student achievement levels.

However, there were several other variables that were not taken into account before the policy was passed in California, including:

  1. The results were based upon a certain demographic of children in a rural area of Tennessee
  2. The results were indicative of a small group of schools, and not driven as a state-wide initiative
  3. The results did not account for additional resources, such as teachers, building space, etc.
  4. The results showed that certain children demonstrated student achievement – it did not work for all of them, and
  5. The classroom size used in the study was 15, not 20

There were several other variables that affected the outcomes of the data. The point is that before the small-classroom size was implemented, the State did not pilot the program or rely on other resources/data before turning schools upside down and accruing millions of dollars in debt.

This demonstrates one extreme example of when data has been misunderstood. I really do believe that policymakers and lawmakers have the best interest of the public at heart. Sometimes when the public screams ‘Reformation’ or ‘Change,’ policymakers will do everything they can to cater to their constituency. It is important for policymakers and lawmakers to understand that catering their decisions to a deserving public should not be at the expense of understanding data. Policy decisions should not be made without consulting experts on research-based practices and outcomes based results.