Thursday, January 5, 2012

Appropriate Disaggregation of Student Performance Data Increases Learning for All

The use of data for school reform is well explicated in Effective Schools research.  Researching this correlate, Bambrick-Santoyo (2008) found given “the proper interplay among interim assessments, analysis, action and data-driven culture, schools can be transformed, and a new standard can be set for student learning” (p. 46).  As a result of using data-driven instruction teacher buy-in is actually created. 
No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) requirements advanced the use of disaggregated data as a powerful motivator for change and school improvement.  In a 2008 press release, then USDE Secretary Spellings noted, disaggregation data is especially important for closing the achievement gap between poor and minority students and their peers.  Spellings contended, “the more information consumers have, the better equipped they are to demand, and achieve, lasting school improvement. And the more information teachers have, the better able they are to customize and improve instruction” (April 2008).
While the NCLB included benefits to students with disabilities (SWD) it also created some barriers that might prevent students with disabilities from enjoying all of the opportunities in the law.  While NCLB requires schools, school districts, and states disaggregate test results for several subgroups of students in an effort to increase the accountability of at-risk groups of students and thereby close the achievement gap.  Students with disabilities are one of the subgroups that must be disaggregated.  NCLB allows states to set a minimum number of students that each subgroup must contain before the data for that particular subgroup can be used for purposes of determining achievement.  Cortiella (2010) notes “the minimum number of students in each subgroup is to be based on what would be sufficient to yield statistically reliable information as well as to make sure that disclosing the results for a particular small subgroup would not, in fact, result in revealing the identity of the students in that subgroup” (para 9). 

A possible unintended consequence of allowing flexibility in SWD subgroup size is that public reporting of any subgroup’s performance is intended to highlight achievement gaps and thereby motivate schools to improve when necessary.  However, schools can escape scrutiny because of subgroup size that may not focus the same level of effort on students whose results aren't reported on the school or district level due to subgroup size.  These schools and districts can avoid a "needs improvement" rating under NCLB if the SWD subgroup size doesn't meet the state minimum.  Therefore, Cortiella (2010) finds “this provision could result in schools attempting to limit the number of students with learning difficulties it qualifies for special education services” (para 10).  For this reason, as an ethical and moral imperative, the appropriate use of disaggregated data must be required and ensured to truly promote learning for all.

Bambrick-Santoyo, P. (2007). Data in the driver's seat. Educational Leadership, 65(4), 43-46.
Cortiella, C. (2010)  No Child Left Behind and Students With Learning Disabilities:
            Opportunities and Obstacles
Spelling. M, (2008) U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings Announces Department Will
Move to a Uniform Graduation Rate, Require Disaggregation of Data. 

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