Congress Should Expand School Performance Measures Beyond Those Found in 'No Child Left Behind'

For Release

Tuesday
April 26, 2011

Expanding measures of school performance beyond mathematics and English language arts will give educators better information when evaluating the academic achievements of schools, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

The report also finds that many states already measure student achievement beyond what is required in the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, popularly known as the "No Child Left Behind" Act, including test performance in additional subjects and growth in student performance over time.

Additionally, researchers find that an expanded set of measures allows for more accurate assessment of school outcomes that are widely valued, but often overlooked because of the current focus on math and language arts.

"Schools have a variety of performance measurement tools at their disposal, and they should use them," said Heather Schwartz, the report's lead author and an associate policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "A federal mandate for states to broaden their measures of schooling may give teachers and principals more information to better evaluate their own schools and their students' performance."

When it was reauthorized by Congress in 2001, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act established a system of school accountability based primarily on student performance on tests of math and language arts. The legislation has been criticized by educators because it prioritized these two subjects at the expense of other important goals.

Congress is expected to reauthorize the legislation in 2011.

In conducting the study, researchers with RAND Education convened a panel of experts on school accountability policies, reviewed published research, conducted interviews with educators and reviewed the measures employed in each state that publishes its own school ratings in addition to those required under "No Child Left Behind."

Researchers found 20 states that published ratings of schools in 2008-2009 or 2009-2010 based on an expanded set of measures rather than only those required for "No Child Left Behind." Researchers identified four measurement categories: student test performance in additional subjects (such as history or social studies), growth in student performance over time, indices that account for student achievement along the entire spectrum of high to low performance and college readiness (such as ACT scores or advanced placement grades and test scores).

The study also identified three other types of measures that are becoming more common: Indicators of a safe and supportive school environment, indicators of risk for students not graduating on time and results of interim academic assessments.

"Expanding the way educators measure a school's performance could have tremendous benefits," Schwarz said. "But there are trade-offs to consider. For example, the balance between the breadth — representing more of the outcomes that matter — and focus — highlighting a few key areas where educators should concentrate their efforts."

Educators also must consider balancing complexity, such as statistical measures widely known by teachers, but less so by the public, and the simpler measures that are easier to interpret, but less useful for decisionmaking.

Researchers make several recommendations, including:

  • Congress should broaden the range of performance measures beyond those mandated under "No Child Left Behind."
  • New federal legislation should encourage states to expand their measures and evaluate their success, but avoid requiring specific measures. As new measures are evaluated and determined to be successful, they can be incorporated into the system over time.
  • Leverage existing federal grant programs to encourage the development and evaluation of additional school performance measures.

The report, "Expanded Measures of School Performance," can be found at www.rand.org. The project was funded by The Sandler Foundation.

RAND Education, a division of the RAND Corporation, is a leader in providing objective, high-quality research and analysis on educational challenges that is used to improve educational access, quality and outcomes in the United States and throughout the world.

The Sandler Foundation is a national foundation that works to improve quality of life. In the area of education, the foundation seeks to further policies that support high-quality learning environments that are equitable for all students.

About the RAND Corporation

The RAND Corporation is a research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges to help make communities throughout the world safer and more secure, healthier and more prosperous.