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Citing New Tests, Many States Late With AYP Results

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More than a dozen states will not release information about whether schools have met achievement targets under the federal No Child Left Behind Act until after the school year begins, and about a dozen more are only just now releasing their lists either this week or next.

That means some parents may not learn until weeks or even months into the fall semester whether their children have the right to transfer to another public school or receive free tutoring under the federal law. Schools receiving federal Title I money that miss their targets for at least two years in a row are identified as needing improvement and are required to notify parents of their rights before the school year begins.

“It’s very troubling,” said Dianne M. Piché, the executive director of the Washington-based Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights, a watchdog group that has been monitoring implementation of the law. “There’s all sorts of finger-pointing going on, and state and local officials are playing the blame game, and meanwhile parents and students are not being made aware of their options.”

Data Delayed

Many states will not release complete information on whether schools and districts have made adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind Act until after Sept. 8.

Illinois—To be determined
Massachusetts—Sept. 11
North Carolina*—October
Rhode Island—Late September
South Carolina—Late September
Connecticut, Maryland, and Vermont have released results for elementary and middle schools, but will not release results for high schools serving only grades 9-12 until later this fall.

*North Carolina has already released preliminary results based on reading, but not math.

State officials are blaming the delays on the addition of new tests or, in a few cases, on problems with test vendors. The 2005-06 school year was the first time that all states had to give reading and math tests in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school to comply with the law. The tests are the primary basis for calculating whether schools and districts have made adequate yearly progress, or AYP, as required under the law, a 4½-year-old rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that seeks to raise all students to academic proficiency by 2014.

Other states revised their tests last school year to reflect new, more rigorous content standards. In both cases, states have had to set new performance levels on the exams. And they have had to verify and crunch far more numbers.

“We expected some of these states to be late because many of them implemented new assessments in ’05-’06,” said Catherine E. Freeman, a policy adviser in the U.S. Department of Education’s office of elementary and secondary education. “And given that they had to set standards this summer, that was necessarily going to push the AYP decisions into early fall.”

Still, Ms. Freeman said she does not view the late reporting of achievement results as widespread. “Many states worked very hard, and many states that told us they were going to be late came in early,” she said.

The Education Department has notified states that schools identified for improvement last school year must continue in that category until the new data become available, with the sanctions continuing to apply. Schools needing improvement also must prepare for the next stage of consequences specified by the law, including mandatory restructuring.

Once new results are released, schools that have failed to meet their AYP targets for two years in a row must be reclassified and notify parents of their options immediately. States must act on preliminary data, even if a school’s final designation changes pending a legally mandated appeals process.

The Education Department has been approving the late releases on a one-by-one basis, as part of amendments to state accountability plans filed with the federal government, Ms. Freeman said. While the department has been pushing states to release results no later than Oct. 31, any state that sought and got approval would not be fined, she said.

Part of Business

Louisiana, for example, does not plan to release preliminary AYP results until October because it added tests in certain grades last spring to comply with the federal law.

“The short answer is we have new assessments that will be included in the AYP calculation at grades 3, 5, 6, and 7,” as well as a new test in grade 9 that’s part of the state accountability system only, said Scott M. Norton, the state’s testing director.

Similarly, Minnesota is scheduled to provide schools with preliminary information Sept. 1, but if schools or districts file an appeal of their performance data, it will not be made public until Nov. 15, under a one-time change approved by the legislature. Schools will notify parents earlier if the schools do not expect to make AYP.

“A lot of it has to do with the fact that we had a large number of new tests this year, and new standards, and a larger number of students taking those tests,” said Randy Wanke, a spokesman for the Minnesota education department.

North Carolina released preliminary AYP results in August based on reading scores, but it won’t release final AYP results that include math scores until Oct. 5. That’s because it changed its math tests this past year to mirror changes in the state academic-content standards.

“We implemented all new math tests in grades 3-8 this year, so just like Massachusetts and other states that are implementing new tests, we’re having to delay the reporting until we can set the scale scores for those tests and then set the achievement levels,” said Louis M. Fabrizio, the director of accountability services for the North Carolina education department.

“Other states are going to hit this point,” said Vanessa Jeter, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina department. “It’s just an unfortunate part of the business of assessment.”

Test Companies Blamed

Other states blame the delays on their test vendors. Illinois, for example, has yet to set a release date for its AYP results, citing problems last spring with its contractor, the Orlando, Fla.-based Harcourt Assessment Inc. Delays in shipping tests and answer documents to many of the state’s 896 districts, as well as missing sections and misprints on exams, caused hundreds of districts to reschedule their testing dates. ("Illinois Schools Adjust to Delays, Mishaps by Test Company," March 22, 2006.)

“We’re still in legal negotiations with Harcourt to recover damages,” said Meta Minton, the spokeswoman for the Illinois state board of education. Because of the snags, the state has put in place additional quality-assurance measures before releasing data this fall. “Our position has been, rather than be fast, let’s be accurate,” Ms. Minton said.

Similarly, Connecticut won’t release AYP results for its high schools until mid-September because Harcourt, which administers its high school tests, notified the state of scoring problems this past spring.

Technically, schools that leave “improvement” status once the latest data are released could immediately pull back on any offers of public school choice or tutoring. But federal officials are hoping that won’t happen in midsemester.

“We recognize that it puts the schools in a difficult position, especially once you’ve offered choice,” said Ms. Freeman of the federal Education Department. “And many states that we spoke to understood that pulling choice back was probably not something that could be done, so they would either continue through the semester or through the school year. I think that probably makes the most sense.”

Vol. 26

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Clarification: This article reported that Colorado would not release its AYP results until October. The state released the results to schools in August, and parents of students in schools identified for improvement were notified of their options under the federal law. The state department of education plans to put out a formal press release in October.

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