Growth Models and Accountability: A Recipe for Remaking ESEA

Reports & Briefs | May 24, 2011
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Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools were held almost exclusively accountable for absolute levels of student performance. But that meant that even schools that were making great strides with students were still labeled as "failing," just because the students had not yet made it all the way to a "proficient" level of achievement.

As the reauthorization of ESEA draws nearer, Education Sector's Policy Director Kevin Carey and Robert Manwaring, a fiscal and policy consultant, argue that Congress should incorporate some measurement of student growth into any accountability system. "Educational accountability isn't just a matter of identifying which schools have the most failing students," they say in Growth Models and Accountability: A Recipe for Remaking ESEA. "It also requires some response to that information that will help fewer students fail."

Since 2005, 15 states have been approved to implement a growth model pilot. The states adopted one of four distinct models—Trajectory, Transition Tables, Student Growth Percentiles, and Projection—each with some drawbacks. How much did these new calculations change NCLB? Not much.

But the models did highlight how the public policy questions around growth models are less an issue of measurement than interpretation of measurement, say Carey and Manwaring. For an example, the report's authors turn to Colorado, the one state that successfully applied for a growth model pilot only to change its mind.

Colorado's own state-specific accountability system emphasizes communicating with the public and making meaningful distinctions between different kinds of schools. Carey and Manwaring look at three Denver-area schools where students are far from meeting the state's proficiency standard to illustrate how incorporating growth measures into an accountability system might suggest different state responses.

Although, as the authors note, "there are no easy answers," this report does offer policymakers a recipe for combining student growth with student achievement to create a more meaningful accountability system.

This report was funded by the Stuart Foundation. We thank the foundation for its support and acknowledge that the views expressed in the report are those of the authors alone.

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