Tuesday, March 01, 2005

What happens if a child leaves himself behind?

It’s a valid question about NCLB. The way it’s currently structured, the law puts the all the responsibility of student learning on the teachers and schools. It seems that the law thinks that if teachers and schools do the right things, then every student will do the work to learn everything that the school teaches. This is not the case, of course. No matter how hard a teacher works, he’ll still have that handful of student that just won’t hold up their end of the bargain, even though they can. These kids are leaving themselves behind. Now what do we do about? (Aside from scrapping NCLB and the Federal Dept. of Ed., of course.)

I have a simple proposal. Tie AYP judgments to grades. For example, if a student earned a D in English, he should only be expected to show D-level proficiency on an exam. This would, of course, be more difficult to execute than the current system since it means gathering more data about each student. The simplest way would be for the school to attach the student’s current grades to the test packet and then flag packets where the grades are too different than the test scores as failing AYP.

The next step would be to change the funding model to have each student represent a fraction of the total funding each school would receive under the Federal formulas. For example, if 92% of students performance on the tests matched their grades, then the school would receive 92% of the promised funding.

The logical question at this point is this: What prevents teachers from giving students lower grades than they deserve? I propose an additional safeguard, which is that if a student does significantly better than his grades indicate, his test booklet would also get flagged as failing AYP. The reason for that, in addition to being a safeguard to grade deflation, is that if a student is really making poor grades but doing very well on the test, then he most likely finds the curriculum far too easy and sees no point in doing the work.

It should be realized that almost no school could reach 100% AYP under this model, since students sometimes do show different levels of ability in the classroom and on the test. I would consider 90% AYP under this model to be a reasonable goal.

The final piece of the puzzle would be to allow teacher to select which test would be on an appropriate level for those students with serious disabilities and the very gifted, who should not be tied to the one-grade-equals-one-year model.

Since this is a first draft, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one. The comments section is open and waiting. (Remember, if you have a long comment, preview it to make sure it’s not being cut off!)

UPDATE: This post has been included in the Carnival of Education - Week 4, hosted by the Ed Wonks. For those of you who haven't checked it out, it's a great place to find diverse views on education. For those who came here from there, I invite you to check out my other posts on education as well as my polls.

TOPIC: Education