Feds Approve NCLB Freeze for Alabama: Now What?

State Superintendent Tommy Bice announced Tuesday that Alabama received approval from the U.S. Dept. of Education to freeze No Child Left Behind mandates for ultimately two years.

Although media has reported the freeze is only for one year, Dr. Bice explained that because of the time frames needed for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) determinations from one school year to the next, Alabama actually has a two-year window to transition to a new “balanced and meaningful” accountability system that will be aligned with college- and career-ready standards, and will be unique to the state.

During this week’s State Board of Education (SBOE) meeting, Dr. Bice presented a general explanation of what Alabama’s new accountability system will look like. A balanced assessment system, according to Bice and his staff, would serve multiple purposes to plan, to support, to monitor, and to verify learning. The use of formative assessments will quickly help inform teachers where students need the most help. Benchmarking data will be used to monitor progress, and summative data will be used to evaluate cumulative learning.

The current system only measures achievement of levels of learning. The new Alabama model will give much more weight to growth in student progress and closing the achievement gaps.

“In our last AYP report, for example, special education students failed to make the cut, or minimum scores,” explained Bice. “But this same group of students had the highest percentage of growth in their learning progress. They, and their teachers, should be commended for that accomplishment.”

He contrasted that example with high-achieving students who are also expected to make the same cut scores for AYP. Consequently this group’s progress has remained stagnant.

“We aren’t challenging these students, and we need to set the bar higher to give all students opportunity for growth,” Bice said.

Dr. Bice explained that all students’ progress will be tracked individually, and the new accountability model will be implemented in two phases over the next three years.

Also beginning in the 2013-14 school year, all high school students will be encouraged to take the ACT exam at no charge in hopes that more students will take the exam and open doors to more postsecondary options for themselves. Although the average ACT scores will likely decrease in the first couple of years because more students are taking the exam, they will serve as an accountability measure for the state’s progress in its Plan 2020 goals.

The state department will have all assessments available online by this fall for K-12.

Another big change will be the phasing out of the graduation exam by 2015. Instead, students passing all end-of-course assessments will graduate. College- and career-ready assessments for grades 8-12 will include EXPLORE, PLAN, ACT with the writing component, and beginning in 2014, WorkKeys for seniors (a job skills assessment system by ACT).

The new assessment plan received public praise this week in a column published in the Anniston Star, which states, “The ‘growth model’ appears to this page a much better way to measure student progress. We applaud this effort.”