Is the No child left behind  accountability model- similar to our accountability model?

Same unintended consequences too, maybe?


The US  federal No Child Left Behind programme  doesn’t really  track student progress at all, it measures ‘proficiency’ at a given time. In short, it provides a snap shot. The original act aimed to  hold schools accountable to minimum percentages of proficient students. A pupils  proficiency was  measured by scores on standardized tests. So, say the score that indicates proficiency on a test was set at  30 out of 50, teachers then  have the responsibility to maximize the number of students who score at least 30, known as the  ‘cut score’.  So, where might teachers  concentrate their efforts?   Bearing in mind the threat of sanctions, including school closure, if they fail, it  is not too  hard to work out precisely  where teachers focus their attentions and resources , in the same way that many teachers in England focus their efforts on the C/D boundary at GCSE to secure league table positioning.  The point about this measure is that it doesn’t track student progress over time. In the US the  ‘bubble hypotheseis’ is  used to explain a consequence of this behaviour – that is the disproportionate gains seen by students who are near the centre  of the distribution. So the proficiency cut score (ie 30) has acted as a kind of lens to focus incentives and accountability on just one segment of  pupils (at the expense of other segments). This is a consequence, albeit unintended, of the current No Child Left Behind  accountability model.  Professor Andrew Ho, an assistant Professor at Harvard  Graduate School of Education,   says that  in this accountability model  “Schools that are doing heroic work bringing students with extremely low scores up to a point that may be just below proficiency get no credit for that, and may, in fact, face serious sanctions despite the progress they are making with kids who are the most at risk. On the other end of the spectrum, students who are high achieving one year can slip drastically, and the system does nothing to flag that decline as long as they stay above the cut score”

So, Hos research looks at  alternatives that not only give credit where it’s due, but also set ambitious yet realistic expectations for particularly  the most disadvantaged students.   Ho points out that many states are using tests that are arguably more sensitive to growth and change over time. These include Massachusetts and Iowa, where the movement away from the proficiency model has had some traction. There is work on alternative tests, supplemental tests, and new ways of scaling tests. One proposal involves “through-course assessments,” shorter, more frequent tests that allow for even more nuanced growth interpretations. These are more formative assessments that may supplement or even replace yearly summative assessments.


Critics of our accountability model share many of the concerns articulated by Professor Ho. The five good GCSE model clearly incentivises teachers to focus on the C/D GCSE boundary, meaning  that the those pupils who  are not in that segment are at risk of being  short changed in terms of teaching priorities .Michael Nicholson, Head of Admissions at Oxford University seems to agree. He told BBC (R4) this month that  bright pupils at state schools are suffering because their teachers are spending too much time trying to help their less intelligent peers to boost their school’s standing in league tables. He said  “There is a target-driven culture. GCSE performance is one of the few indicators used to demonstrate school success. Schools wanting to ensure they are well-placed will make every effort to get as many students who are going to get C grades to get C grades.“Maybe there are students who are being missed, who have got a solid B potential and aren’t in any danger of dropping below that C grade. That’s the group of students who could be being disadvantaged.”



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