The Effect of ESEA Waiver Plans on High School Graduation Rate Accountability Report (PDF)
February 12, 2013
Prior to 2008, many states used inaccurate high school graduation rate calculations. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) issued regulations to address this concern, which were scheduled to become fully operational in every state in the 2011–12 school year. ED’s flexibility policy (i.e., waivers from key provisions within the No Child Left Behind Act [NCLB]) provides an opportunity for states to implement innovative policies and practices designed to improve student achievement and graduation rates. This report provides an extensive analysis by the Alliance for Excellent Education, which shows that recent progress in holding high schools accountable for how many students they graduate—the ultimate goal of K–12 education—may be slowed in some states based on waivers recently granted under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as NCLB. The report also includes a review of approved waiver plans submitted by thirty-four states and the District of Columbia.
Waiving Away High School Graduation Rate Accountability Policy Brief (PDF)
January 10, 2012
In November 2011, eleven states submitted applications to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) for waivers from key provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act. Although the waiver process presents an opportunity to strengthen college and career readiness among the nation’s high school students, this analysis by the Alliance for Excellent Education finds that many state applications could have the unintended consequence of weakening high school graduation rate accountability. High school graduation rates account for 14 percent to 30 percent of state accountability indexes. With graduation rates counting for such a small portion of the overall accountability indexes, schools could have an incentive to push out low-achieving students in order to increase overall scores on achievement tests and other measures of college and career readiness.
Principles for a Comprehensive Assessment System Policy Brief (PDF)
February 25, 2010
The United States is poised to make the most dramatic advance in assessment in decades. A state-led effort to develop common core standards in literacy and mathematics is defining what it means to be ready for colleges and careers, and this effort will invariably heighten the demand for assessments that measure a broader range of knowledge and skills and open the door for common assessment components across states. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Education is providing $350 million for consortia of states to develop new assessments that measure the common core standards. And a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) will set guidelines for assessments and their use for years to come. This opportunity could not be more timely. There is widespread concern that the most prominent assessments currently being used in the United States are inadequate and may have a significantly negative impact on student learning. This brief suggests the principles upon which the federal government and states should base their work in fashioning new assessments. Recognizing that no single test can fulfill all the needs for information by all stakeholders, it suggests the need for a comprehensive system of assessments. Most importantly, the brief argues that this system needs to be coherent and cohesive, aligned to standards for college and career readiness.
Reinventing the Federal Role in Education: Supporting the Goal of College and Career Readiness for All Students Policy Brief (PDF)
July 10, 2009
It is a unique moment in education policy. From the highest levels of leadership--the president and the U.S. secretary of education--there is a call to action to address the high school crisis, focus on the lowest-performing schools, and graduate students college and career ready. Over the last few years, congressional leaders have developed legislative proposals based on research and best practice that demonstrate possible ways forward for federal policy. The recent infusion of new funds from the federal stimulus program has opened the nation’s eyes to new opportunities and reinvigorated efforts to improve education. And the state-led movement to develop common standards and assessments offers the nation an opportunity to trade incremental changes for collaborative efforts with the power to truly transform American education. It is time to harness this progress and momentum, and convert commitment and proposals into a reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) strategically designed to address the high school crisis and move the nation toward the goal of all students graduating from high school ready for college and careers. This brief provides recommendations for an ESEA reauthorization that would help ensure federal policy not only maintains pace with the common standards initiative, but also serves as a leader and partner in helping bring the potential of this and other efforts to fruition.
Moving Beyond AYP: High School Performance Indicators Policy Brief (PDF)
June 29, 2009
As education stakeholders look ahead to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization, there is near-universal consensus that the current federal accountability and school improvement systems need to be reinvented, infused with more and better data, and tailored to meet the individual needs of schools and students. Now, educators, policymakers, and the public are eager for indicators that both better reflect the national goal of graduating all students ready for college and careers and help educators plan and implement strategies for getting them there. Fortunately, a number of high school performance indicators have emerged as being predictive of high school graduation and college and career readiness. These factors include attendance, course success, on-track-to-graduation status, course-taking patterns, success on college- and career-ready assessments, postsecondary success rates, and school climate. This brief, Moving Beyond AYP: High School Performance Indicators, describes the research behind these indicators, measurement options and challenges, and current use across the nation. It also offers recommendations to federal policymakers for supporting the use of multiple, actionable high school performance indicators.
As the nation embraces the goal of graduating all students college and career ready, there is a growing movement to realign standards, assessments, and accountability systems to that goal. Meaningful Measurement: The Role of Assessments in Improving High School Education in the Twenty-First Century, is a collection of essays by leading experts that discuss important assessment issues, examines promising assessment practices from across the globe, and offers recommendations on how the federal government can support an assessment agenda for the twenty-first century. Topics include: assessments that measure students’ college and career readiness, performance assessments, the role of benchmark assessments, assessing high school students who are English Language learners and students with disabilities, the benefits of international assessments, the role of technology in improving assessments and their use, and how assessment design affects the implementation of a growth model at the high school level.
Action Required: Addressing the Nation’s Lowest-Performing High Schools Policy Brief (PDF)
May 4, 2009
In an age where a postsecondary education, let alone a high school diploma, is increasingly necessary to succeed in the global economy, the growing recognition of a graduation crisis that disproportionately affects poor and minority students has helped galvanize the demand to improve the lowest-performing high schools. Education leaders have a responsibility to provide better options to the students served by such high schools. Addressing the nation’s lowest-performing high schools with effective options for all students—either by transforming them, closing them, or replacing them with multiple other schools—will require a systemic strategy that involves stakeholders and policymakers at all levels, establishes the necessary conditions for success, and promotes organizational practices and instructional strategies within a school that lead to improved teaching, learning, and outcomes. This brief examines the current federal approach to addressing the lowest-performing high schools; explores lessons learned from emerging strategies at the state and local level; and provides related recommendations for federal policy.
Every Student Counts: The Role of Federal Policy in Improving Graduation Rate Accountability Policy Brief (PDF)
March 16, 2009
As the poor performance of U.S. high schools has been acknowledged and come to the forefront of education policy debates over the past several years, so too has a recognition of the need to improve graduation rate calculations and accountability for increasing those rates. A range of state, national, and federal efforts have been launched toward this end—many of which were codified in the October 2008 federal regulations on Title I of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This brief, Every Student Counts: The Role of Federal Policy in Improving Graduation Rate Accountability, provides background information on the movement toward better data collection, common graduation rate calculations, and meaningful accountability for raising graduation rates and describes in detail the culminating federal policy changes made by the regulations, which reflect both the significant progress that has been made and the hurdles that remain.
For too long, inaccurate data, misleading official graduation and dropout calculations, and inadequate accountability systems at the state and federal levels have obscured low graduation rates. In October 2008, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released regulations that change requirements for states’ calculations, reporting, and accountability systems for graduation rates under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Nationally, and for each state, Federal High School Graduation Rate Policies and the Impact on States summarizes the changes the new regulations would make in these three policy areas and describes how each state's current graduation rate policies might be affected.
From No Child Left Behind to Every Child a Graduate Report (PDF)
August 28, 2008
This report outlines the Alliance for Excellent Education’s Framework for Action to Improve Secondary Schools, which reflects the consensus among educators, researchers, policymakers, and other authorities on the specific problems of secondary schools, as well as on the research- and best-practice-supported solutions to those problems. Taken together, the seven policy areas contained within the framework offer a comprehensive and systemic approach to secondary school reform.
Every Student Counts: The Case for Graduation Rate Accountability Policy Brief (PDF)
July 7, 2008
If the nation is to truly meet the goal of every child a graduate, we must hold schools responsible for graduating every student with a regular diploma, particularly poor and minority students. Unfortunately, current education accountability systems virtually ignore high school graduation rates. Every Student Counts: The Case for Graduation Rate Accountability summarizes such shortcomings in the No Child Left Behind Act and calls on policymakers to take action on four specific recommendations that will alleviate the unintended consequences of weak graduation rate accountability.
Accountability for What Matters – Graduates Prepared for Success (PDF)
2006 Conference Panel paper
October 12, 2006
Prior to, and certainly since, the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), “accountability” has taken center stage as a critical tool for increasing student success and closing achievement gaps. Indeed, valid, transparent accountability systems—properly designed and implemented—can be a major force as schools, districts, states, and the nation work toward those goals. Unfortunately, the current NCLB accountability system is too often a blunt instrument where it should be a precise tool for promoting positive change. This is especially true at the high school level, where graduation rates are not sufficiently valued and there is a dearth of funding for school improvement.