Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Rationing Education in an Era of Accountability: The Push for Accountability Was Originally Cast as a Way to Ensure That Schools Would Leave No Child Behind. Ironically, as Ms. Booher-Jennings Points out, the NCLB System of Requiring Schools to Demonstrate Adequate Yearly Progress through Test Scores Has Created Incentives to Neglect the Very Students Who Need the Most Help

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Rationing Education in an Era of Accountability: The Push for Accountability Was Originally Cast as a Way to Ensure That Schools Would Leave No Child Behind. Ironically, as Ms. Booher-Jennings Points out, the NCLB System of Requiring Schools to Demonstrate Adequate Yearly Progress through Test Scores Has Created Incentives to Neglect the Very Students Who Need the Most Help

Article excerpt

MEET Mrs. Dewey, 46 years old and a veteran fourth-grade teacher at Marshall Elementary School. Mrs. Dewey entered the teaching profession in the wake of A Nation at Risk and has weathered the storm ever since. For the last 20 years, she has survived the continuous succession of faddish programs that has characterized American education reform. Year after year, administrators have asked Marshall teachers to alter their practice to conform to the latest theory. Mrs. Dewey's colleagues, frustrated by the implementation of such silver-bullet approaches, have often flouted the administrative directives and chosen instead to serve as the sole arbiters of their classroom practice.

But it is the newest of the new solutions that worries Mrs. Dewey most. The language of accountability is swift and uncompromising: hold educators responsible for results. Identify those teachers who, as President Bush says, "won't teach." Fair enough, Mrs. Dewey thinks. The consummate professional, Mrs. Dewey always looks for the silver lining.

Like other reforms, accountability requires teachers to embrace a new strategy. Data-driven decision making, a consultant told the faculty at a professional development session, is the philosophy Marshall teachers must adopt. The theory is simple. Give students regular benchmark assessments; use the data to identify individual students' weaknesses; provide targeted instruction and support that addresses those areas. Mrs. Dewey remembers nodding approvingly. After all, this approach--gathering textured information on each student to guide instructional activities--was one she had been using for 22 years.

The consultant moved on. "Using the data, you can identify and focus on the kids who are close to passing. The bubble kids. And focus on the kids that count--the ones that show up at Marshall after October won't count toward the school's test scores this year. Because you don't have enough special education students to disaggregate scores for that group, don't worry about them either." To make this concept tangible for teachers, the consultant passed out markers in three colors: green, yellow, and red. Mrs. Dewey heard someone mutter, "What is this? The traffic light theory of education?"

"Take out your classes' latest benchmark scores," the consultant told them, "and divide your students into three groups. Color the 'safe cases,' or kids who will definitely pass, green. Now, here's the most important part: identify the kids who are 'suitable cases for treatment.' Those are the ones who can pass with a little extra help. Color them yellow. Then, color the kids who have no chance of passing this year and the kids that don't count--the 'hopeless cases'--red. You should focus your attention on the yellow kids, the bubble kids. They'll give you the biggest return on your investment."

As the bell tolls a final warning to the boisterous 9-year-olds bringing up the rear of her class line, Mrs. Dewey stares blankly into the hallway. Never did she believe that the advice offered by that consultant would become Marshall's educational mantra. Focus on the bubble kids. Tutor only these students. Pay more attention to them in class. Why? It's data-driven. Yet this is what her colleagues have been doing, and Marshall's scores are up. The community is proud, and the principal has been anointed one of the most promising educational leaders in the state. At every faculty meeting, the principal presents a "league table," ranking teachers by the percentage of their students passing the latest benchmark test. And the teachers talk, as they always do. The table makes perfect fodder for faculty room gossip: "Did you see who was at the bottom of the table this month?"

Mrs. Dewey has made compromises, both large and small, throughout her career. Every educator who's in it for the long haul must. But this institutionalized policy of educational triage weighs heavily and hurts more. …

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