Policy & Accountability
How State Accountability Systems May Overlook Low Performers
- By Dian Schaffhauser
as education leaders are encouraged to look at the data to understand
which pockets of students need special kinds of support for their
learning, a new article
from a research organization have suggested that some "subgroups"
of students are too small to register on the radar, which means they
get passed over.
project described by the Regional
Educational Laboratory Program
set out to understand why some states had a disproportionate number
of middle schools with low-performing students with disabilities. In
one state, according to the project, middle schools accounted for
two-thirds of all schools targeted for improvement under the rules of
the Every Student Succeeds Act. As a result, those schools received
additional support from the state to help those subgroups improve.
But what about the same subgroups in elementary school or high
school? How come they weren't targeted for extra help too?
problem is tucked into the process states may use to identify the
"Targeted Support and Improvement" (TSI) schools. Each
state comes up with a plan for identifying those schools that
underperform through their accountability systems. Those systems
typically look at academic achievement, progress and graduation rates
within their schools, among other aspects. Each state sets a minimum
number of students that each school and subgroup must meet for each
performance element before that element is included in the overall
accountability score. Schools are tagged for TSI when their subgroup
accountability scores are low compared to the overall student
population in the state.
study found that those middle schoolers with disabilities didn't
perform "substantially and consistently worse" than the
ones in lower or upper grades. However, the schools they attended
were "much more likely" to have a sufficient number of
students with disabilities taking the state exams to meet state-set
minimum thresholds. That meant the subgroups' proficient rates
counted more often toward those schools' accountability scores.
researchers concluded that the sample sizes in elementary and high
schools were just too small, thereby masking poor performance.
article and infographic offered two ways states can overcome this
update their accountability systems so schools "are only
compared with other schools that meet minimum sample size
requirements for the same performance dimensions"; and
incorporate statistical techniques to make the accountability scores
or small sample sizes more precise.
coverage of the project is openly available as a blog
on the REL Mid-Atlantic website.
Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.