Press Release

The Education Trust calls on U.S. Department of Education to ensure performance of all students matters

WASHINGTON (October 9, 2014) — State accountability systems mask the full story of student achievement, as shown in a new report by The Education Trust. When accountability systems allow schools to earn high marks despite their low performance for some groups of students, it sends a strong message about how the state values the academic progress of these groups.

The report shows this pattern in several states, and calls on the U.S. Department of Education to correct the problem and make the performance of all students matter in the upcoming No Child Left Behind waiver renewal process.

When low-income children and children of color don’t matter in state accountability systems, policymakers and educators are given a pass to overlook these students’ needs. Ed Trust argues that schools should not be seen as top performers under their state’s accountability system unless they are meeting their state’s gap-closing goals for every group of students.

“Three years ago, Secretary Duncan directed states to focus primarily on improving achievement in the 15 percent of schools with the lowest achievement or the largest gaps. That was good for many reasons, but it also removed pressure from the vast majority of schools to meet the goals they set for all groups of students,” said Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust. “Later this month, the department has one last chance to put this right when they issue guidance for the renewal of NCLB state waivers.”

School accountability systems have the potential to be a powerful tool to help close the long-standing gaps in achievement that separate low-income students and students of color from their peers. Right now, in many states, these ratings say little about the performance or progress of individual groups of students.

Ed Trust’s analysis used data from three states: Minnesota, Florida, and Kentucky. By highlighting these states, the intent is not to single them out as bad actors. In fact, each of these states represents some degree of innovative policy design and has demonstrated its dedication to raising student achievement. And each of these states has demonstrated significant improvements for low-income students and students of color in some subjects and grades.

The goal, instead, is to test the signals that school accountability systems are sending about the performance of students of color and low-income students in a diverse group of states that represent policy choices made by many other states.

The Ed Trust analysis found that top-rated schools’ proficiency rates for low-income students and students of color are, on average, about the same as those of white and higher income students in middle- and low-rated schools.

  • In Florida, the average reading proficiency rate for African American students in “A” schools is about the same as that of white students in “C” schools. Similarly, the average proficiency rate for Latino students in “B” schools is about the same as that of white students in “D” schools.
  • In Kentucky, average math proficiency rates of African American students at schools earning a “Distinguished” rating are about equal to math proficiency rates of white students in “Needs Improvement” schools.
  • Minnesota’s low-income children in top-rated schools are performing about the same as higher income children attending schools identified for intervention.

There is no single best way to fix these patterns. One of the ways states can do this is by assuring that gap-closing goals matter in the ratings schools receive. Making this adjustment would send a strong signal that the achievement of every individual group of students counts.

“States are rightly reconsidering their accountability systems as they move to new, college- and career-ready standards and assessments. As hard as this work is, it creates a real opportunity to put the focus squarely back on the performance of all groups of students,” said Daria Hall, Ed Trust’s director of K-12 policy development. “As states do the work of designing their post-transition accountability systems, they should be careful to ensure that school ratings reflect how schools are serving all groups of students.”