While public discussion of the education bill has focused on such hot-button issues as vouchers, much of the real drama in Washington-"what everybody was E-mailing and voice-mailing everybody else about"-is the "adequate yearly progress" or A.Y.P. formula, writes Nicholas Lemann in a narrative account of the progress of Bush's ambitious education plan through the Congressional gantlet. (Lemann's piece appears in this week's New Yorker.)
As if Lemann were a fly on our wall, a group of us inside-the-beltway types got together the other day to parse some of the perplexing dilemmas that will face Senate and House conferees when they turn to the A.Y.P., testing, and accountability sections of the pending E.S.E.A. bills. The deeper we went, the more alarmed we became at just how knotty some of these issues are. This section of the legislation simply doesn't lend itself to "splitting the difference" or melding rival versions. To have any realistic hope of ending up with something in this area that can actually be implemented without causing untold mischief, the conference committee must, in essence, start afresh. Here are some unsolicited precepts to guide that difficult process.
First, the gold standard for analyzing student achievement is value-added analysis that employs annual test scores for individual students, with results aggregated for schools, districts, states and other relevant institutional units-and whatever demographic groupings need their academic progress tracked.
Second, we must understand the key distinction between value-added and achievement-level analysis, also sometimes known as "standards-based" analysis. In the latter case, states...