Tennessee Chosen

Yesterday, the US Department of Education selected Tennessee and North Carolina to test a new way of meeting NCLB standards: by measuring growth (thus, being able to predict future proficiency) rather than an absolute benchmark. The News-Sentinel and Tennessean both carried stories about it today.

Measuring growth is also known as “value-added,” where students are tracked individually, at the classroom level, school level, and system level to determine not only what a student knows at that moment in time, but how much they have learned since the previous year.

Isn’t that the point?

The reality is that human beings are different: some are born with more potential, some are born to families with more resources or whose parents place a high emphasis on learning. Those children are known to perform better on achievement tests, thus creating the impression that the school is meeting expectations.

But think for a moment about a classroom of children without those advantages — kids who may have only one parent, parent(s) without much education, who started out as much as a couple of years behind their more advantaged peers. Yet, a really good teacher can help these students catch up, often resulting in more than a year’s worth of achievement in a given year.

If in 4th grade, these children started out two years behind their more fortunate counterparts, but by the end of the year were only a half-year behind them, one would have to assume not only adequate yearly progress, but good progress, even though they had still not achieved the same level as the more advantaged group.

Under the current NCLB law, progress doesn’t matter — just whether every kid achieves a certain score, regardless of circumstances. The pilot project in Tennessee and North Carolina will make actual progress count, and will eliminate one of the sticking points that has frustrated the education community since the law’s enactment.

Several other states had applied to be part of the demonstration, but lacked the data collection and tracking that Tennessee has been using since 1992. Value-added analysis and student tracking is one of things Tennessee does best, and using individual student data to analyze areas of weakness is a powerful tool for ensuring that every child learns.

This is cause for celebration, and incentive to do the best for every child on an individual basis.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *