SALEM—A plan that would make individual achievement the measure of school progress rather than the sheer number of students passing standard tests is drawing interest in Oregon.
The plan announced Friday by U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings in Virginia marks a major shift in policy under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which judges schools by the annual academic progress of their students through testing.
It also is a response to criticism from Oregon and other states that federal law gives little or no credit to schools that improve individual student achievement but not enough to put the school at or over benchmark levels on state tests in reading, math and writing.
Spellings said a basic requirement of the 2002 No Child Left Behind law remains: All students must meet state academic benchmarks by 2014.
Oregon will apply to be one of 10 pilot states for the new federal plan if it can meet the Feb. 17 deadline, state school Superintendent Susan Castillo said. States will learn in May which 10 are picked.
"We have been talking about doing this for several years," Castillo said. "We want to make sure that all kids are progressing, not just whether they got over a bar. With a growth model, you can track that more accurately."
Unlike some states, Oregon can track individual student progress required for eligibility under the new growth model.
Pat Burk, the Oregon Department of Education's chief policy officer, said current measurement under the No Child Left Behind law doesn't reveal how far or how fast each student has progressed.
A school with 51 percent of students meeting achievement standards in reading and math for three years in a row might be judged as making adequate yearly progress, even though individual student performance showed no improvement, Burk said.
At the same time, he said, a school with high numbers of low-income and minority students that shows student progress, though 50 percent do not reach benchmarks, might be judged as failing.
Under a growth model, schools would have to move students already above the benchmark even higher, while moving those below benchmark toward the standard.
"From my point of view, this actually raises the bar," Burk said. "You want to see low-performing schools improve at a faster rate than average."
This year, under the benchmark measurement, 32 percent of Oregon schools failed to meet federal performance standards.
Burk said if Oregon is selected as a pilot state, it won't mean that existing school measurements will be abandoned. Parents and school officials still need to know which students are meeting state academic benchmarks.
"We don't want to send the message that we are lowering standards for minority or low-income students," he said.
— The Associated Press