Saturday, October 11, 2008

NCLB Performance Measures

Public education affects students’ lives in many ways. No Child Left Behind uses certain performance measures (Smith, 10) to gauge the output of a specific scope of a school’s total impact. Though it is an understandable sacrifice to make, the limitation of measurement criteria has several unintended repercussions.

“3. Are the evaluation methods appropriate for the audience?
4. What kind of evaluation is desired?
7. What kinds of data are necessary for the evaluation?” (Gerston, 132)

Above are three of the ten key questions Gerston summarized for policy evaluators. These criteria need to be readdressed in NCLB reform. The data used to form an evaluation of a program represents the goals of that program (Smith, 2). Public schools have a great deal of responsibility and I would argue that its goals shouldn’t be restricted to the simple assessments of (1) attendance, (2) performance on standardized tests, and (3) graduation rates, (Ohio Department of Education).

The problem escalates as three criteria listed above are used as mechanisms of ‘control’ (Smith, 4). “Outcome measures as instruments of control may lead to unintended and possibly dysfunctional consequences,” (Smith, 17). As schools continue to shape policies focused on a limited criteria of success, desperately needed attention in other matters is moved farther from the agenda.

Before solutions are offered to the limited scope in performance measures and lack of comprehensive outcome analysis within NCLB, the reasons and benefits for the current approach should be mentioned. Before NCLB there were few internal evaluators (Gerston, p. 124) within public education. With limited accountability an assessment of the system was far harder to obtain. And with compartmentalized policy execution it was harder to make broad reforms. Any process evaluation (Gerston, 126) of education policy today would find enormous improvements of our education reform. Meaning, the impact on students’ school experience from legislation has been streamlined as a direct result of NCLB. This makes for a policy window (Gerston, 23) of enormous proportions with the next presidential administration.

A superficial gauge of a student’s short-term memory on a high-stakes test is a poor evaluation of a student. I believe an optimal way of evaluating students is through a Complete Student Profile (CSP). While standardized testing would still remain the core of evaluations (as the content it assesses is critical), the academic curiosity, engagement, appreciation, and outside support of a student ought to be quantitatively measured. As “outcome measurement can never be ‘objective’” (Smith, 7) it is important to include as much information as possible within the pool of chosen ‘stakeholders,’ (Smith 6). The CSP would use surveys to measure students, parents and teachers’ satisfaction (Smith, 11) with their school. It could measure the hours the student engages in extracurricular activities. Many schools already have a reward system for students who read library books. This practice should be standardized and the data used as another performance measure.

Measuring a few outputs rather than the outcome (Smith, 1) can relegate critical tasks to secondary priorities as seen with No Child Left Behind.

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