The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, the current incarnation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, is almost universally unpopular with lawmakers, state officials, and principals and teachers for a variety of reasons. But it does retain some favor with civil rights groups, particularly because it requires states, school districts, and schools to ensure that minority students and students enrolled in special programs like free and reduced price lunch, special education, and English language learners are reaching performance targets. Further, it requires states and districts to publish information on this disaggregated student achievement through annual report cards that are publicly available to parents and other stakeholders.
Though the report card requirements in the current 2001 law have made great strides in improving parent access to data, Senators Harkin (D-IA) and Enzi (R-WY) recently introduced a bill to reauthorize ESEA (which expired back in 2007) that would take the annual report card even further to provide parents with even more valuable data on school performance. That said, it would also allow states and districts to obscure information on teacher qualifications.
In addition to data on student achievement both overall and for sub-groups of students and graduation rates, the Harkin-Enzi bill would require states and districts to publish three more key pieces of data. These include data on the percentage of graduated students that matriculated to college the following fall, the percentage of graduated students needing remedial education in college, and student performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for 4th and 8th graders.
All three of these changes would significantly improve the usability of the report cards. Including College matriculation data in the state and district report cards would show which high schools have the greatest success sending students to higher education institutions and college remediation data would reveal which schools are not properly preparing their students for college-level learning. Both of these measures would put direct pressure on high schools to improve their focus on college-going and increase the rigor of their courses where necessary. However, it is unclear how many states and districts are able to make these data available. While some states are already able to track student matriculation and coursetaking in college, many are not. States would have until the 2012-13 school year to produce matriculation data and the 2013-14 school year for remediation data.
Including NAEP performance in the report cards, on the other hand, would provide a point of comparison for each state’s standards and student performance on those standards. For example, if 75 percent of a school’s students score proficient in 8th grade math on the state assessment, but only 30 percent of students in that state score proficient on NAEP, parents could conclude that the state’s standards are not nearly as rigorous as the NAEP standards. This direct comparison could push states to improve their standards.
The Harkin-Enzi bill also includes some optional information states and schools can include on their report card. These include passing rates on AP/IB tests, class size, incidence of school violence, school climate indicators, attendance rates, and school readiness for kindergarten students. While some of these indicators are relatively difficult to track systematically across districts, others, like class size and attendance, are low-hanging fruit. Hopefully most states and districts will take advantage of the data already available and include these two indicators on their report cards.
Strangely missing from the Harkin-Enzi bill is any mention of teacher quality or qualifications in the proposed new report card. NCLB currently requires states and districts to publish in their report cards information on professional qualifications of all public elementary and secondary school teachers, the percentage of all public elementary and secondary school teachers teaching with emergency or provisional credentials, and the percentage of classes not taught by highly qualified teachers, in the aggregate and disaggregated by high-poverty compared to low-poverty schools. The reauthorization bill includes no such requirements; in fact, the report card section doesn’t mention teachers at all.
However, under the “parents’ right-to-know” section, the proposal requires school districts to release information on teacher qualification to parents if they request it. This information would include whether a student’s teacher has met state qualification and licensing requirements, whether the teacher is emergency certified, what the teacher majored in in college, and the qualification of any paraprofessionals in the classroom. At the same time, the bill requires states to submit data to the Secretary of Education on the percentage and distribution of teachers that are not highly qualified, teachers that are inexperienced, teachers that have not completed a teacher preparation program, and teachers that are teaching out of their subject area.
If states and districts are already required to provide this information to the Secretary or to parents that request it, why do they not also have to include it on state and school districts report cards? Teachers are one of the most important components of a student’s learning experience and any information regarding the qualifications or experience of those teachers should be readily available to parents and other stakeholders. Requiring parents to request this information creates an unnecessary roadblock that many parents are unlikely to want to navigate.
The state and school report card is one of the primary sources of school quality information for parents. The Harkin-Enzi bill would make some strides in improving the report cards by strengthening data on high school outcomes and providing a good point of comparison for state standards. But at the same time, it would allow states and districts to conceal valuable information about teacher qualifications.