Not Just One Student in One Cell
Across the country when school accountability ratings are released, we hear the cry that schools are in Academic Review or Under Improvement because of one student, or one group of students, missing their performance targets. For the vast majority of Delaware schools, this is just not the case.
To understand why, first we need to understand how students and groups of students are measured. NCLB requires that states set a minimum number of students in a school that are part of a specific subgroup (Special Ed., ELL, Low Income, etc.) for that subgroup – also called a “cell” – to be required for accountability. When a school reaches these minimums, it is also called “activating the cell.” In Delaware, each school must have at least 40 students in a subgroup in order to activate that cell. When activated, the school has to meet the state’s performance target for that group of kids.
This year, nearly 60% of Delaware public schools failed to meet their academic targets for at least one cell of students, and 45% failed to meet their targets for more than 20% of cells. Of those schools, 49 missed at least 40% of their cells. All told, only three schools failed to make AYP because just one cell of students (special education) missed their targets. That leaves 99 schools that missed more than one cell..
In 2010, Delaware’s targets for active cells were 79% proficient in Reading and 67% proficient in Math on the DSTP. In real terms to miss the Reading target this year, more than one in five students needed to be below the proficiency level, and to miss the Math target more than one in three students needed to be below the proficiency level. And just to put these targets in perspective, Delaware has set its DSTP proficiency level at about half of what the national expectations are on NAEP – so the bar that we are missing isn’t even a high one. Even though this is clearly complex, it’s easy to see that missing targets for multiple cells translates to a whole lot more than one student.