By now, you’ve most likely learned of the approval of Alabama’s waiver from simplistic pass/fail measures under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). You’ve probably also caught wind of the controversy surrounding setting performance measures and benchmarks, known as Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs), based on God-given or since-birth-earned characteristics, known as subgroups, of children.
Somehow Alabama is being singled out as being “un-American” for doing so. The word is spreading like wildfire, fueled in part by this article in The Tuscaloosa News, which an Alabama-based political group decided to twist into being connected to Common Core State Standards and launching ill-informed communications into the stratosphere, where it was then picked up by the Christian Science Monitor, as well as other internet-based sources of information.
State Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice published his explanation of setting goals by subgroup last Friday, focusing attention on the increased rate of growth in performance expected in subgroups of children who have historically performed at lower achievement levels. The idea behind the method, I’ve learned, is for children who are farther behind to make faster progress over the next six years.
I’ve been clear that I have my own concerns about setting these measures based on subgroup identifications under NCLB, but I am now more concerned (and a bit irritated, truth be told) that the rest of the education media here in Alabama and across the country didn’t know this has been an acceptable method of goal-setting since the first round of waivers were approved in February 2012.
Alabama was the 38th state to receive a waiver, and the
27th 28th to calculate AMOs based on subgroup. (Sorry for the error. Sometimes simple math is the hardest.)
I completed a painstakingly difficult analysis of all state waivers plus the District of Columbia (D.C.) that have been submitted to the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE), searching simply for who sets performance goals by subgroup. Here’s what I found:
- 2 states submitted plans but eventually withdrew (Vermont and North Dakota)
- 2 states waivers were denied (Iowa and California)
- 2 states have not submitted waiver requests (Montana and Nebraska)
- 5 waiver requests are pending
- 40 waiver requests have been approved (39 states plus D.C.)
Looking at the 45 total that are either pending or have been approved:
- 32 set AMOs by subgroup for accountability purposes, 33 counting Alabama
- 10 do not set AMOs by subgroup for accountability purposes
- 2 are unclear regarding how AMOs will be set
But even of those 10 that do not set AMOs by subgroup for accountability purposes, many do use subgroup measures in one form or another, e.g., combining subgroups into “historically underperforming races and ethnicities” or “high-needs” groups, to compare to the “all students” group in their accountability measures.
Results of State Waiver Review
Specifically, I looked for whether AMOs are set by subgroup, which subjects will be included in testing for accountability purposes, and whether AMOs will be set for each school and each school district, and what the “n-size” (minimum number of children in a particular subgroup that must be present before results even count) is. Additionally, I provided either a link or a reference to where I found AMOs for that state.
I apologize for any errors or omissions. Please contact me if you see an error in the data. Each waiver request was written very differently one from another, and there were no simple checkboxes that provided the information I sought for this review. That made for a painstakingly difficult review process, as previously mentioned.
Why the Outrage Now?
So given that 31 other states have set AMOs the same way Alabama education officials chose to do so, why the outrage now?
Why do national education reform experts not know that this has been happening since the first round of waivers were approved?
Why has Alabama’s largest digital content provider not written a single story about Alabama’s plan, yet took the time to share with us what Florida’s plan to set AMOs by subgroup six weeks after our Alabama State Board of Education approved our waiver request?
What efforts have our local school boards and local school districts made to share this new way of doing things with the public?
While I agree that the communication effort on the Alabama State Department of Education’s (ALSDE) behalf was abysmal (exactly one week for public comment), the media’s lack of coverage was particularly disappointing. With this being such a major huge change in the way the ALSDE and the feds will hold our schools accountable for our students’ achievement, you’d think somebody would have thought that was a good story to share.
Heck, I wrote about it four times between the August 2012 release to the public and the June 2013 approval (scroll to “For Your Review”).
I don’t know what disappoints me more: the ALSDE’s less-than-impressive effort to share it with the public, the media’s unwillingness to even mention it, or the rage of those within our state and across the nation toward Alabama.
I suppose it’s easier to beat up on Alabama than Maryland for doing the same thing.
Accountability Versus Reporting
In grasping what is happening with these AMOs, it is extremely important to understand there is a difference in “accountability” and “reporting”, just as there is a difference in “standards” and “curriculum” (and also in “teaching” and “learning”).
Accountability implies some sort of reward or consequence for results, where reporting is simply that: telling us the results. Alabama is using AMOs by subgroup for accountability measures as well as reporting purposes. But for accountability, those subgroup AMOs only matter in terms of measuring the gap between the subgroup and the “all students” group. For more on that calculation, read this post on how the Performance Index will be calculated and how and when those gaps matter. While all state systems differ from each other, combining students into gap groups is very popular, and has raised suspicion of more than one national advocacy group (this one and this one).
Pay Attention to What’s Happening with the School Grading System
While we are forced to trust the ALSDE and our local districts to hold schools actually accountable for the numbers reported in the Performance Index, we will need to pay particular attention to the School Grading System that is currently being developed where reporting is concerned.
In my review of waivers across the country, I saw some grading systems that were terribly complex and nearly un-interpretable for ordinary folks, but I also saw a couple that were user-friendly and even helpful. We must make certain that whatever Grading System is ultimately adopted is one that we parents, families, and community members find meaningful and useful. Those discussions are happening now. And yet, there has been not a peep from either the ALSDE or the media about the progression of that Grading System. Last I heard, there was an internal working group that would present their work at some point in the future and at that point public input would be invited. That was four months ago.
The Grading System will be tied to the Alabama Accountability Act in 2016, which will determine which schools land on The List of “failing” schools.
Keep your eyes peeled for more information about the Grading System and be prepared to step up and offer input about it if and when the public is invited. You can count on me to share that invitation as soon as it is issued. Be sure to sign up for e-mail notifications of published posts here on the Alabama School Connection site (upper right-hand corner).