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January 26, 2011
In anticipation of an ESEA reauthorization, policymakers
are beginning to rethink which factors should be included in federal
school-performance reporting. Enter this latest from RAND, which pushes the
discussion along by explaining how states, districts, and other countries
report school performance. At the state level, there are currently twenty jurisdictions
that publish their own school ratings in addition to federal AYP. While the
rating systems vary in detail, they all strongly rely on student testing—using
assessment scores in subjects beyond ELA and math (usually science and history),
tests weighted on a continuum (rather than a pass-fail mark), and ACT or AP
scores (at the high school level). RAND analysts see merit in these metrics,
but also push for expanding them beyond such “student outcome data” to assess
the whole school culture. To that end, RAND showcases districts and states reporting
school-culture indicators (like teacher and student satisfaction) and
emotional, behavioral, and physical health indicators (like suspensions). Why
is this necessary? As the authors aver, it is widely accepted that NCLB’s emphasis
on AYP forced schools and districts to overemphasize testing. Using these
expanded school-performance indicators might encourage schools to prioritize
college and career readiness, school safety, civil-mindedness, and student
health. While RAND is right to say that school-based accountability needs to be
rethought, their push for adoption of such a broad slate of measures at the federal
level is wrong-sighted. That’s a responsibility best left to the states.
Thankfully, as this report points out, many have already picked up that torch.
Heather L. Schwartz, Laura S. Hamilton, Brian M.
Stecher, and Jennifer L. Steele, “Expanded Measures
of School Performance” (Arlington, VA: RAND Corporation, 2011).