A state accountability score (cumulative criterion-referenced target percentage) of 51% for Students with Disabilities is not shocking.
It is not the equivalent of a 51% on an algebra test.
The state classifies this score as making substantial progress toward targets.

You may have heard claims that Arlington's "accountability score for our Students with Disabilities is a shocking 51 percent.” The implication is that an accountability score of 51% is the equivalent of a score of 51% on an algebra test. This is not true.

The accountability measure being described is what the state calls a “cumulative criterion-referenced target percentage.” The foundation of the rating is a state system of setting ambitions improvement targets, which get more ambitious every year. It is a calculation based on a collection of measures scored on a five point rubric, where 0 indicates a decline, 1 indicates no change, 3 indicates meeting the target, and 4 indicates exceeding the target. The calculation is based on the percentage of possible points, so meeting an improvement target results in a score of 3 out of 4 or 75% of the possible points. Arlington’s overall score of 71% is just shy of meeting (on average) all targets, and we are in the top 20% of districts statewide.

When a 51% cumulative criterion-referenced target percentage for Students with Disabilities is portrayed as “shocking,” it is clearly a misrepresentation of the meaning of that statistic. The state’s interpretation is that, “a district is reported as making substantial progress toward targets if it has a cumulative criterion-referenced target percentage from 50 to 74 percent.” This is the second highest classification out of six levels in the accountability matrix. A criterion-referenced target percentage as low as 25% is classified as making moderate progress toward targets.


The accountability system is designed to differentiate between schools and districts that aren’t making progress (target percentage scores below 25%) and categorize them for state intervention. These categories include schools and districts with limited or no progress toward targets, those requiring focused or targeted support, underperforming schools or districts requiring broad or comprehensive support, and chronically underperforming schools or districts requiring state receivership.

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Paul Schlichtman
is a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s School & District Accountability & Assistance Advisory Council. The Council reviews and recommends changes to the state's accountability system. He spent the past 20 years analyzing school and district performance and accountability data to help principals and teachers to understand the levers of change that improve their schools.
He understands that measures like the MCAS are just indicators that inform our work, not desired outcomes that drive our decisions. Too much emphasis on MCAS and accountability scores takes time and resources away from art, music, world languages, social studies, social-emotional learning, and other essentials not tested by the state.

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