In this 2005 photo, a classroom teacher in Buena Vista uses the Michigan Educational Assessment Program administrator manual to prepare his class for the standardized test. Under Michigan’s new growth model, schools will receive credit for improvement in student scores, even if the students do not earn a “proficient” score on the tests. (AP Photo/Jeff Schrier)
Michigan schools now get credit for students
who have made headway in reading or math — but still are not proficient — in
their effort to meet the academic bar set by the No Child Left Behind Act.
Called a growth model, the new system allows
students who have not reached proficiency on state standardized tests, but who
are “on trajectory” to reach proficiency within three years, to be counted
favorably in NCLB calculations. Until now, only students who reached proficiency
could be counted.
“It’s not ‘bad’ for students to have their school identified as in need of improvement, if it’s indeed in need of improvement,” he said. Transferring to better schools or receiving tutoring services “is nothing but a plus for students.”
The new formula will make it easier for some
schools to make “adequate yearly progress” and avoid sanctions under NCLB,
although only a relatively small number of students are involved, according to
the Michigan Department of Education. Nationwide, critics of NCLB have long said
that schools deserve credit for improvement, not just proficiency, while others
say that NCLB provisions already have been watered down enough.
“Teachers often work with low-scoring
students and make improvements in the achievement of individual students, but
despite considerable gains, those students may not make it all the way to
proficient,” the state’s Growth Model Pilot Application stated. That application
has since been approved by the U.S. Department of Education, as have growth
models in nine other states.
“It (the proficiency-only model) doesn’t
account for where kids start out,” Dr. Joseph Martineau, director of the state
education department’s Office of Educational Assessment and Accountability, told
Michigan Education Report in a telephone interview.
The MDE calculated that between 4,000 and
8,000 students — between 0.7 and 1.3 percent of all fourth- through
eighth-graders — would have been added to the plus side of NCLB calculations
statewide if the growth model had been used in 2006. In general, students are
“on trajectory” if they make enough gain in one year that, by repeating that
gain in the next two years, they would be at the proficient level.
Martineau said the department doesn’t yet know
how many individual schools will make AYP this year due to using the growth
model because his department’s analyses are still under way. A press release
from the department said the number will be “modest.”
The model is used only for fourth- through
eighth-grade students and only for math and language arts scores, the two
subjects that fall under NCLB mandates.
The growth model comes at the same time as a
jump in Michigan’s AYP targets of about 10 percentage points across the board.
That means that the latest test score results are being measured against a
higher bar. For example, schools now must show that 54 percent of their middle-schoolers
are proficient in math as a sign of adequate progress. Last year, 43 percent
would have been enough.
The targets will remain at 2008 levels until
2011, when they take another 10-percentage-point jump, then will increase
annually until 2014, the year when schools are expected to reach 100 percent
Critics of NCLB have long said that it does
not give schools enough credit for student improvement, especially among
disadvantaged or minority populations. They point out that a school could show
significant gains among low-performing students, but if those students don’t
“pass” the state test, the school still must begin mandated improvement efforts
like allowing students to transfer, offering free tutoring or replacing staff.
“It is very frustrating to make significant growth but not have that
acknowledged,” Leslie Holland, executive director of the High Priority Schools
Initiative in Wayne County, told Michigan Education Report. “I would say putting
a growth model in place gives teachers incentive.”
The High Priority Schools Initiative, based at
the Wayne Regional Educational Services Agency, works with schools that have
been identified through NCLB as needing improvement.
Holland said the growth model potentially
could help educators zero in on which low-performing students show the most
improvement, and then track the teaching practices that led to that growth.
However, she added, it also adds one more layer of data for administrators and
teachers to analyze, in a system that already is data-heavy.
If meeting AYP depends on passing the state
test, then the tendency is for teachers to focus on students who are close to
passing, Martineau said.
“It (a growth model) really gives hope for
kids who are really far behind,” he said.
TOO MUCH WIGGLE
But others say enough is enough when it comes
to giving schools leeway on NCLB.
Education Sector, an independent education
think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C., supports the concept of growth
models, but is critical of other NCLB adaptations, including some used in
Michigan. In a report called “The Pangloss Index: How States Game the No Child
Left Behind Act,” author Kevin Carey says that the NCLB has become “comically
For example, most people assume that a
Michigan school makes AYP based on the number of students who pass the Michigan
Educational Assessment Program in a given year. That is the lion’s share of the
formula — but not all of it.
Schools also can make AYP through multiyear
averaging, which means that schools that do not make AYP based on their current
year’s scores can average those results with the previous one year or two years
if it helps them meet the state target.
Martineau said that in some cases a multiyear
average is a better assessment, particularly among schools that hover near the
edge. Without averaging, some schools would be identified as needing improvement
one year, not identified the following year, but identified again in the third
year, he said, even though the quality of that district is unlikely to have
changed significantly year over year.
“It stabilizes those results,” he said.
Martineau said the state department did not
have a tally of how many Michigan schools made AYP in the most recent year based
on multiyear averaging because the system does not track that information
Although a number of states use averaging,
Carey said the practice is inherently biased, since the only possible outcome is
to identify fewer schools as low-performing.
“Everything is weighted toward reducing the
number of non-AYP schools instead of identifying students who need help,” he
If a school’s averaged scores still don’t meet
the target, then a school can make AYP through “Safe Harbor,” a provision
written into NCLB itself. Under this plan, a school must show that, even if it
doesn’t have enough proficient students, it has at least decreased the number of
students who are not proficient by 10 percent from the previous year.
In 2006-2007, 126 Michigan schools reached AYP
through the Safe Harbor provision, according to Martineau.
Michigan also surrounds each student’s MEAP
scores with a “confidence interval” designed to account for measurement error. A
confidence interval is based on the premise that scores are affected by such
things as testing conditions or chance error, Martineau explained.
Those conditions could cause students’ actual
score to be higher or lower than their true ability, he said. To accommodate for
this, the state counts some students as “provisionally proficient.” This
includes students whose actual scores were slightly below the passing score, but
still fell within a specific range.
In Michigan in 2005-2006, nearly 80,000
elementary students were counted as “provisionally proficient” in language arts
and nearly 160,000 in math, according to the MDE growth model application.
Provisional students are counted as proficient for the purposes of determining
adequate yearly progress. In fact, one reason that the growth model will involve
relatively few students is that a number of them already are considered
While states generally describe NCLB
adaptations as ways to be more fair and accurate in evaluating schools — and all
of the adaptations have the approval of the U.S. Department of Education — the
general result is that fewer schools are identified as needing improvement.
Carey said that, taken cumulatively, that hurts children.
“It’s not ‘bad’ for students to have their school identified as in need of
improvement, if it’s indeed in need of improvement,” he said. Transferring to
better schools or receiving tutoring services “is nothing but a plus for
But Martineau said the adaptations are “things
that are standard in statistical practice,” and intended to address problems
with the NCLB model.
EASY TO FAIL
NCLB requires that a given percentage of all
students in all tested grades reach proficiency targets in reading and math each
year, and also that subgroups of students, such as major ethnic groups, students
with disabilities, and economically disadvantaged students, reach those targets
as well. If a school fails in one subgroup, it fails overall.
The model was intended to force schools to
address the learning gap between minority or disadvantaged students and students
“The use of subgroup data has brought
attention to subgroups in a way we never had before,” Holland said.
But many educators question if the pass-fail
approach to subgroup performance is fair.
“It sounds really good, but it makes it really
difficult for a school to make AYP,” Martineau said. As the number of subgroups
in a school increases, the number of ways that school can fail to make AYP
“The law of the land when we were in school
was equal access to education. Today it’s equal achievement on the same test on
the same day. That’s really not realistic,” said Ron Koehler, assistant
superintendent for organizational and community initiatives at the Kent
Intermediate School District.
NEW WAYS TO FIX
Besides allowing states to tailor the way they
determine proficiency, the federal government now allows some states to tailor
the way in which they deal with problem schools. As part of a pilot project, 10
states no longer have to levy sanctions in the order or method proscribed under
NCLB. In Maryland, for example, principals will receive extra training rather
than be removed from their jobs.
Michigan will not apply to change the way it
works with schools identified for improvement, according to Martineau and Sally
Vaughn, deputy state superintendent and chief academic officer of the Michigan
Department of Education.
“We decided against it because the flexibility
(it offered) was very minor,” Martineau said.
Lorie Shane is the managing editor of the Michigan Education Report, the Mackinac Center’s education policy journal. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that Michigan Education Report is properly cited.