Thursday, August 18, 2011

Should WE Even Care That Schools Didn't Make AYP?

Julie Mack, the Kalamazoo Gazette's education reporter, often writes thought-provoking blogs and newspaper articles questioning both sides on issues related to school reform. I enjoy reading them and her analysis often helps to balance the oft one-sided arguments usually found in other local news sources.

In one of her latest blogs, she asks, "Should parents care if their school doesn't make adequate yearly progress?"  She points out the evidence close to home where two local Kalamazoo high schools were recently ranked by the Washington Post as top schools in the country.  Just two weeks later, they find themselves, along with 717 other schools, on the list of Michigan schools not earning adequate yearly progress. In the minds of simple media folks, and public school haters, this equates to being on a "failing schools" list and wearing a badge of shame.

Another idiosyncrasy of NCLB, incidentally, is that most disabled and non-English-speaking are treated the same as other students. Those students are tested and their scores are included in the AYP analysis.

NCLB is fraught with problems starting with comparing all schools as if the communities they serve are equal, a fact any reasonably sane person knows is not true. And while the premise of setting a goal for all students to achieve at exactly the same level is admirable when presented in speeches and photo ops, in reality, not all students have similar obstacles in front of them nor do they have similar community and family support systems. Burying our heads to these realities and continuing to judge schools solely on the basis of an annual one-day bubble test in reading and math will not reform our educational system, nor will it better prepare our students for the 21st century learning and career skills they need.

Not that we should ever stop trying to help students get past the baggage they bring with them to school each day, but at some point in time reasonable minds need to prevail and realize that to do so requires community, family, government AND school reform to reach this utopian vision. Merely expecting the schools to do more so that parents and society can continue to shirk their own responsibilities is a band-aid approach to an ever-increasing problem. If NCLB has accomplished anything, it has demonstrated that band-aid approaches don't work and neither does the concept of a nationalized education industry bent on producing widgets that are exactly the same size and shape, unable to think and reason in rich, diverse ways that will eventually contribute to solving real world problems, devoting the bulk of their time preparing for bubble tests that only measure a narrow band of knowledge, disregarding application, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, contribution and a whole host of other critical skills.

So should parents care if their school doesn't make AYP?
No question, it's a big deal for educators who have to deal with the public-relations fallout as well as extra scrutiny from the state Department of Education.
But most educators acknowledge that AYP is not a very accurate measure of school quality. It's certainly possible for a high-performing school not to make AYP.  It's possible for a school -- especially a small school with a homogeneous population -- to meet AYP standards with mediocre performance. 
AYP gets a lot of attention. From the standpoint of parents judging school quality, that attention is probably undeserved.

This is not what real education was intended to be and NCLB's AYP system is not an effective measure of results.

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