Last week I wrote about the tortured history of testing and school accountability in America in a defense for Common Standards and Better Tests. Today AEI released a more extensive history with real data analysis, “NCLB sanctions: Tests taken, lessons learned.”
As noted last week, I supported NCLB’s bipartisan high expectations and efforts to address chronic failure. An iterative approach could have kept the commitment to equity and adjusted the intervention steps, but instead NCLB has grown stale and has been thrown under the bus by critics on the left and the right. State waivers are slowly dismantling the giant bill piece by piece, a slow reversion to soft state based systems of accountability.
Despite falling well short of lofty goals, authors Thomas Ahn, Kentucky, and Jacob Vigdor, Duke, argue that “NCLB did have positive impacts on schools simply by introducing consequences for bad performance, and additionally by spurring needed leadership change at some of the nation’s most troubled schools.”
The authors found that “School accountability systems in general, and NCLB in particular, had some beneficial systemic effect.” Also schools forced to undergo restructuring “posted significant improvements in both reading and math scores, suggesting that leadership change is an essential component of reform in persistently low-performing schools.” It’s also clear that some NCLB components worked, others didn’t.
The report contemplates “accountability 2.0” based on lessons learned:
Focus on test-score gains, not levels.
Incentivize schools, not teachers.
Intervene with,rather than summarily fire,underperforming teachers.
Move local autonomy even further.
An AEI meeting tomorrow, moderated by Education Week’s Ginny Edwards, will explore the report with the authors and experts including Nina Rees (National Alliance for Public Charter Schools) and Celia Sims (New America Foundation).