Since the enactment of No Child Left Behind in 2002, test scores have been used to punish, close, and remove resources from the schools that needed them the most. And what did this punitive, one-size-fits-all approach to accountability get us? Rising opportunity gaps and students, educators, and schools that are penalized rather than supported.
The idea of using a sole metric – test scores – to measure student outcomes was doomed to fail for a host of reasons, not least of all because lawmakers ignored a critical step: providing students in high poverty schools with the necessary supports and resources to help them learn.
Doing so, however, requires knowing what indicators determine the level of opportunity available to a student. Which is why NEA has called on Congress to approve a system that measures what helps students learn best and include it in the next version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently being debated on Capitol Hill.
NEA calls it the “Opportunity Dashboard.” If approved by Congress, it could, for example, bring art, music and science back to the curriculum and leave “teaching to the test” where it belongs: in the past
Here’s an explainer summarizing how it would work and what it would mean for students, parents, and educators.
NCLB actually did something right: it disaggregated student test scores, meaning it looked at data by specific subgroups of students, which is critical in spotting achievement gaps among disadvantaged student populations.
So if we can do this for test scores, we can do it for other indicators. This is where the dashboard comes in.
Think about your car. When you turn on the ignition you tend to scan the dashboard to check the oil gauge, water temperature, odometer, etc. to make sure that your car is running properly. And when you have car issues, you first look at those gauges to narrow the problem areas.
Similarly, a school runs best when students have a wide array of learning opportunities available to them regardless of zip code. And if a school is having problems, the reasons will be revealed in the opportunity dashboard that will show which critical resources are missing.
What does all this have to with testing and accountability?
During NCLB, accountability has been a one-way street. Students, educators, and schools have been held accountable for student outcomes and punished, but states and districts were not held accountable for providing to schools the very materials and supports that students needed to excel.
This has to change. A accountability system under a new ESEA should revolve around, instead of test scores, the indicators measured by the Opportunity Dashboard and address one simple question: Is a school receiving a large enough infusion of resources to educate all of its students and to pay for the interventions necessary to help close achievement gaps?
Video: What Would Educators Do ... About ESEA?
What are some of the key indicators?
For starters, does the student have access to things like advanced coursework and arts and music classes? Does each student have access to fully qualified teachers in the school? Does class size allow for one-on-one attention for kids? How about access to high-quality early education programs? And does the school have school nurses to help students stay healthy and school counselors to help guide them?
Educators also need support if they are going to do their best to help kids learn, so do they have access to professional development, mentoring, and time to collaborate with each other. (You can learn more here)
In 2014, Arne Duncan announced that the Department of Education would use the data it has to determine if districts are meeting their obligations to support low-income students. But it should also be incumbent upon states and districts to collect and report data that provides a more robust picture of how schools are doing to meet students’ needs.
So a new ESEA should include a requirement that individual states, in their applications for federal funds, report their “opportunity dashboard” data. But it doesn’t end there. If inequities are apparent, states should then be obligated to develop an “opportunity and equity plan” to fix the problems – a process that should be public, transparent, and include all stakeholders.
It is no longer enough to know about problems in schools, we all need to come together and solve those problems so all students can learn.
Sounds great, so what happens next?
It’s happening now. In April, members of Congress continue to work on a new ESEA. Will they double-down on the failed policies of NCLB or see to it that all students, regardless of their zip code, get the tools, time, resources, and support to learn?