Subgroup Performance and School Reform
Ask educators to explain where they are directing their school improvement efforts these days and chances are they will answer, “at subgroups – especially special education students and English language learners.” It’s not difficult to understand why. Many schools and districts cite the performance of students in these subgroups as the reason they did not make adequate yearly progress (AYP) as required by federal law.
Identifying subgroup performance is one of the most significant accountability components of The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). The law requires that state assessment scores of English language learners and Special Education students, among others, be disaggregated and publicly reported. Meeting this requirement has exposed achievement gaps that are sometimes disguised when state scores are reported in the aggregate, and highlighted student needs that have not been met.
A narrow approach is not the answer
Unfortunately, some schools respond to these needs by equating “school improvement” with “improving subgroup performance” and decide to focus their improvement strategies solely on improving the test scores of students in these special populations. This approach is problematic for two reasons. First, it ignores the fact that student performance is an outcome, not a cause, of school success or failure. Poor student performance is symptomatic of school issues that need to be addressed, just as high student achievement reflects a school’s health and vitality.
Second, this decision does not acknowledge that schools are systems, made up of many interrelated and interdependent parts. Although strength in each part is important, even essential, no one part causes a school to succeed, or fail. So even if it were possible to “fix” the English language learner or Special Education “problem” (that is, raise assessment scores in these areas), that approach would have only limited, and likely short-term effectiveness in helping schools sustain success.
This month’s newsletter highlights recent research that suggests a different approach. It looks at three studies in which schools that succeed – and all of them serve high percentages of at risk students – take a more comprehensive approach to improvement.
Reprinted with the permission of the Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement. © 2008 Learning Point Associates. All rights reserved.
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