Monday, March 24, 2008

Differentiated Accountability

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings made a major policy announcement last week in St. Paul, Minn., on the state accountability measures in No Child Left Behind (NCLB), flanked by Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) and U.S. Senator Norm Coleman (R). In her remarks, she said, "Today, NCLB functions much like a pass-fail system. We can now make distinctions across that accountability spectrum." She emphasized that the goal for getting all students on grade level for math and reading by 2014 remains unchanged.

Spellings unveiled a new pilot program that would allow states to implement "differentiated accountability" in addressing schools that fail to meet the mandates under NCLB. The program is based on an accountability model that would allow states to interpret the type of intervention needed for each low-performing school, based on the school's degree of achievement toward NCLB goals. The move addresses complaints of NCLB treating all schools the same, regardless of the degree to which Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is met.

The ultimate goal is to allow states to focus their intervention efforts and resources on specific schools in greater need of attention. This pilot program represents a fundamental shift in NCLB policy and may open the discussion around increased state flexibility when NCLB is reauthorized.

States can submit proposals to participate in the pilot by May, and a maximum of 10 states will be approved. In their proposals, states will be required to develop methods to distinguish between schools that drastically fail to meet AYP and those that narrowly miss AYP. States with at least 20 percent of their Title I schools in need of improvement, as well as states that propose the most significant and rigorous reforms will be given preference in the evaluation and approval processes.

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