Getting away with it: What happens when no one’s minding the store: New state data about highly qualified teachers and graduation rates
(Washington, DC) - The Education Trust released today two new reports documenting the contradictions and inconsistencies in state-reported data for teacher quality and high school graduation rates. All states were required to submit these data - along with other indicators - to the U.S. Department of Education on September 1, 2003, in compliance with Title I of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The report makes clear that the data problems were apparent to the U.S. Department of Education, which nonetheless disseminated the data without review or comment.
The first report, Telling the Whole Truth (or Not) About Highly Qualified Teachers, reveals that while some states made good faith efforts to report honest data, others fell far short. A considerable number of states reported no teacher quality data at all, some states reported data that appears inconsistent, and many others failed to apply their own definitions of teacher quality before submitting their baseline data. Consequently, the data provides a distorted picture of where states stand now, and what progress needs to be made.
The second report, Telling the Whole Truth (or Not) About High School Graduation Rates, highlights the need for states to better report their high school graduation data. Ultimately, this data should result in greater awareness of how many students, particularly low-income and minority students, make it through high school. A state-by-state analysis of graduation rates in all 50 states demonstrates that while some states seem to have seized this opportunity to provide an honest picture of high school graduation among their young people, many other states were lax in reporting complete and useful data.
While states have the responsibility to collect accurate data, the U.S. Department of Education has the responsibility to provide clear guidance to the states on how they should report the data and ensure that the data they receive is of high quality. ”We have pointed out for months the gross inattention by the Department to teacher quality and its now clear that this inattention has carried over to the critical issue of graduation rates. The U.S. Department of Education has failed to provide the leadership, guidance and enforcement that would have produced better data,” said Ross Wiener, policy director for the Education Trust. “The Department’s inaction sends a strong message about priorities - one that is at odds with the priorities expressed in the law.”
”Few issues are as heart-wrenching as the reality for young people who drop out of the education system without even a high school diploma,” said Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust, ”which is why its so disappointing that this public reporting has not been taken more seriously. Many states seem to have taken advantage of the Departments lax oversight to choose calculation methods that portray a rosier picture than external sources suggest.”
”The foundation of any successful long-term school improvement strategy is good information,” noted Kevin Carey, senior policy analyst at the Education Trust. ”What we have seen in analyzing each states data, however, is far too many states shirking their responsibility to provide good information. Many states are passing out rose colored glasses through which to view inequitable and flawed systems. This kind of deception undermines the likelihood of genuine improvement efforts and hurts the educational prospects of students.”
Students are not the only ones who suffer under the weight of faulty data — teachers suffer, too. Title II of NCLB provides almost $3 billion a year to help teachers meet the highly qualified standards. Without proper baseline data on the number of highly qualified teachers, however, states cant appropriately target these resources to the teachers and communities where the help is most needed.
”The irony in all of this,” said Wiener, “is that there are no financial penalties or sanctions in NCLB if states fail to meet the goal of having all teachers highly qualified by 2005-2006. States will not be punished for being forthright about the qualifications of their teachers. We sincerely applaud those states that appear serious about providing honest data and addressing their teacher quality challenges. Yet many seem to have chosen to obfuscate and obscure the problem rather than address it, and the Department of Education has been complicit in this deception,” Wiener concluded.
What Did the States Report and How Complete is the Data?
Telling the Whole Truth (or Not) About Highly Qualified Teachers includes information on:
- States That are Making Good Faith Efforts
No state has perfectly executed every step of the process of creating a good definition of highly qualified teacher, applying that definition, and reporting that data in a timely fashion. Some states, though, have created definitions of highly qualified that appear focused on making sure that every child has access to teachers that demonstrate the depth and breadth of knowledge they need to be effective. These states include Mississippi Arizona, New Mexico, Alabama, Ohio, Rhode Island, Colorado, and Tennessee.
- States That Reported No Data at all on Teacher Quality
Despite the fact that these requirements have been well known for going on two years, some states were either unable or unwilling to provide baseline data on teacher qualifications and distribution. Seven states provided no data: Louisiana, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
- States That Didn’t Apply Their Definition of ”Highly Qualified”
Some states did not complete the process of developing and applying their definition of highly qualified that does not involve a college major or test (HOUSSE). This likely resulted in underreporting their percentage of “highly qualified” teachers, providing a skewed picture of their baseline data and making it difficult for these states to use that data as a basis for making improvement plans. These states include Alabama, Alaska, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Texas.
- States That Don’t Test Anything as Part of Certification
States have been required to have basic test requirements for teachers- including tests of literacy and numeracy for elementary teachers - in place for new teachers since last year as a condition of receiving federal funding. And yet a handful of states still don’t test anything at all as part of certification. These states include Idaho, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.
- States That Don’t Test Subject Matter as Part of Certification
Research suggests that students who have teachers with strong content knowledge achieve at higher levels than students who have teachers with weak content knowledge. The research is particularly compelling in subjects like mathematics. The law responds to this research by demanding that every state adopt subject-specific tests for new secondary teachers who dont have a major in the subject(s) they are assigned to teach. But a number of states still dont test subject matter for elementary or secondary certification, or both. These states include Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Kansas, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin.
Telling the Truth (or Not) About High School Graduation Rates finds that:
- The persistent gap between the graduation rates of White students and those of their African American and Latino peers is present regardless of the definitions or methodology employed for calculating graduation rates. These graduation rate gaps have devastating consequences for minority students.
- If, for example, African American and Latino students in New York graduated from high school at the same rate as their White peers, that would mean approximately 37,000 additional minority students would graduate every year.
- The same calculation in Texas would mean over 20,000 more minority graduates in that state every year.
- The same calculation in California would mean over 25,000 more minority graduates in that state every year.
- Many states have adopted definitions and methodologies that significantly understate the problems that their schools and students are facing in high school graduation.
- Notably, some states, such as Nebraska, Wyoming, and Rhode Island, have self-reported data that closely resembles federally collected, independently analyzed data. There are others, however, such as California, North Carolina, and Indiana that show large differences.
”In order to raise achievement of all students, we must first identify the problem. Without data, we are apt to focus on perceived problems instead of reality. Erroneous data, especially about access to qualified teachers, feeds the myth that low achievement is the fault of the students instead of what it really is the systems unwillingness to provide students with a quality education,” Haycock concluded.