PA Gets NCLB Waiver, But Still No Funding For Schools in Low-Income Districts
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The following was originally posted on Ramey's blog Yinzercation.
Move over Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Time to make room for the School Performance Profile (SPP). Pennsylvania has just been granted its waiver to the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, which had required that all students in the country be proficient in reading and math by next year. But don’t start celebrating just yet.
When it became apparent that AYP goals were pie in the sky, states started lining up to get waivers. It took Pennsylvania longer than most others to get in line (41 others were ahead of us). But that’s only because then-Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis was concerned that a waiver would force the state to change the way it performs standardized testing and that any new federal laws could make the state change its testing again. Once it became clear there would be no new federal legislation, Pennsylvania applied for the waiver, which comes with plenty of strings attached.
What we will get now is a School Performance Profile, based on student test participation rates, graduation and attendance rates, and two measures of progress towards closing achievement gaps.That means that three out of the four “annual measurable objectives” in the profile will be based on student testing. In other words, SPP threatens to simply replace the old high-stakes-test-crazy system with a new one. Or as our Shippensburg grassroots colleague Susan Spicka aptly put it: “It is absurd that our state government is focusing so much time, energy and money ensuring that all children have an equal opportunity to be evaluated when it is clear that all children do not have an equal opportunity to learn.”
And that’s exactly the problem. This new SPP system will label schools without providing any real help for struggling students. If a school receives federal Title I money (based on its proportion of poor students), it will be labeled “priority,” “focus,” or “reward.” All other schools will get a profile score. It’s not clear if that score will be a number or letter grade (A – F), which is very trendy right now among corporate-style-reformers who support vouchers, charter-expansion, school closure, and other privatization efforts. Either way, the bottom line is these rating systems do not appear to work and are definitely subject to cheating.
In an analysis of Indiana’s school grading system, sociologist Matthew Di Carlo found an extremely high correlation between poverty and a school’s grade. Almost 85% of low-poverty schools earned and A or B, and almost none got a D or F, while over half of the high-poverty schools earned Ds and Fs. A full 80% of the schools labeled as failing with an F were in the highest poverty quartile. Dr. Di Carlo concluded, “This is not at all surprising. It is baked into this system (and you’ll see roughly the same thing in other states).”
This summer we learned how these school grading systems encourage adults to cheat. Have you heard of “Campbell’s Law”? Dr. Donald Campbell was a social scientist who famously theorized, “The more any quantitative social indicator (or even some qualitative indicator) is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”
That is exactly what happens with high-stakes-testing and its application to school grading. Earlier this month Florida’s state superintendent, Tony Bennett, was forced to resign after reporters discovered that he had changed accountability measures to lift the grades of several schools back in Indiana when he was the elected public school leader of that state. In one case, he helped change a C to an A grade for a charter school run by and named after one of his campaign donors. See the distortion and corruption of Campbell’s Law?