Individual Student Improvement Should Trump All Else

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Dear Extra Credit:

As a fifth-grade math teacher at KIPP DC: AIM Academy public charter school, I have heard a lot of discussion about No Child Left Behind testing results. School districts, school administrators and parents struggle to interpret data that compare different groups of students from different years against arbitrary proficiency measures. Schools are forced to defend results that do not distinguish between those who fall just short of making AYP [adequate yearly progress] and those who fail miserably.

I would suggest changing one aspect of NCLB to improve teacher accountability. AYP status is based solely on an absolute measure of proficiency and does not account for student growth. I think an accountability program that does both would be more useful for teachers and schools.

The current system can lead teachers to discount or inflate their sense of success in the classroom. In schools where students arrive far below grade level, failure to reach grade level does not necessarily mean failure in learning. For schools whose students come in significantly ahead, reaching grade level is not a rigorous standard. A 5-foot-10-inch basketball player who tries to learn how to dunk faces a task quite different from that of someone who is 6-10.

At KIPP, we do not lower expectations for any student, no matter how far below grade level he or she is. Ultimately, we want all students to be proficient, but this takes time. A teacher who fails to make AYP in a single year might still be making significant progress with his or her students. For example, only 44 percent of my fifth-grade math students were proficient on the 2007 D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System test. However, the 2007 Stanford Achievement Test 10 showed that they entered at the 20th percentile on the beginning of the year pre-test and reached the 70th percentile on the end-of-year post-test.

Whenever NCLB comes up, I find that people immediately look to whether a given school has made AYP. I am more concerned with how each student has grown after a year under my instruction. AYP does not tell me this. I must look to other, more sophisticated measures.

Lisa Suben


KIPP DC: AIM Academy

Congress Height s , D.C.

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