More states focused on subgroup performance
(District of Columbia) Although fewer than half of all states have submitted plans to the U.S. Department of Education for carrying out the nation’s new education law, just two have proposed using 25 as a minimum subgroup of students for accountability purposes.
Five states and the District of Columbia have promised to hold themselves responsible for the performance of an n-size of 10 or fewer students.
So far, the majority of states that have submitted their plans for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act have agreed to use a minimum group size of 20.
That’s a big drop from 12 years ago when the most common n-size fell between 30 and 40 students, with some states identifying only a percentage of a school’s population to set the group size, according to a 2005 Education Department memo.
The concept evolves from the concern that schools for many years were unaware, and thus indifferent, to the performance of smaller populations of students–especially those from low-income families, ethnic or racial minorities and students with disabilities.
With the adoption of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, schools were required to report the achievement data for all elementary and secondary students with separate reports for each subgroup. Later, the Education Department issued regulations that mandated states to describe how they determined the minimum number of students for accountability purposes, and defend the data drawn from that analysis as statistically reliable.
When Congress wrote ESSA two years ago, they included those regulatory requirements. Thus, in the plans that states are required to file with the Education Department, they must specify a single value for the minimum number of students needed to provide statistically sound results.
Getting the n-size right is no easy task. Setting the number too high means the exclusion of performance results of many students. Setting the number too low can result in wild and unreliable swings in data or the release of identifiable information of individual students.
While ESSA requires states to develop and defend their n-size, Congress didn’t include any enforcement options for the Education Department, if the n-size was too big or too small or otherwise unworkable. As a result, there has been some fears among advocacy groups that states would use the flexibility to backslide on subgroup performance.
To date, the department has approved ESSA plans for 15 states and the District of Columbia. Of that group, just Tennessee will use an n-size of 30 students.
Three other states have their plans pending before federal regulators, with just one of them, Michigan, proposing to also use 30 students as the minimum student size.
Louisiana, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey and the District of Columbia have said they will use an n-size of 10; North Dakota’s is nine.
Arizona, Illinois, Oregon, Connecticut and New Mexico will use 20 students as their minimum number.
Two states that are finalizing their plans and are expected to submit before the end of the months are California and New York—both are expected to propose a 30-student n-size.