Adequate Yearly Progress
Updated July 18, 2011
Adequate yearly progress (AYP) is the measure by which schools, districts, and states are held accountable for student performance under Title I of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. AYP, however, is not a new concept; it was introduced into federal law in the ESEA's 1994 reauthorization.
Under NCLB, AYP is used to determine if schools are successfully educating their students. The law requires states to use a single accountability system for public schools to determine whether all students, as well as individual subgroups of students, are making progress toward meeting state academic content standards. The goal is to have all students reaching proficient levels in reading and math by 2014 as measured by performance on state tests. Progress on those standards must be tested yearly in grades 3 through 8 and in one grade in high school. The results are then compared to prior years, and, based on state-determined AYP standards, used to determine if the school has made adequate progress towards the proficiency goal (Department of Education, 2001).
According to the law, states have the flexibility to define this yearly progress, but it must include the following elements:
- State tests must be the primary factor in the state’s measure of AYP, but the use of at least one other academic indicator of school performance is required, and additional indicators are permitted;
- For secondary schools, the other academic indicator must be the high school graduation rate;
- States must set a baseline for measuring students’ performance toward the goal of 100 percent proficiency by spring 2014. The baseline is based on data from the 2001-02 school year;
- States must also create benchmarks for how students will progress each year to meet the goal of 100 percent proficiency by spring 2014;
- A state’s AYP must include separate measures for both reading/language arts and math. In addition, the measures must apply not only to students on average, but also to students in subgroups, including economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, English-language learners, African-American students, Asian-American students, Caucasian students, Hispanic students, and Native American students.
- To make AYP, at least 95 percent of students in each of the subgroups, as well as 95 percent of students in a school as a whole, must take the state tests, and each subgroup of students must meet or exceed the measurable annual objectives set by the state for each year (Department of Education, 2001).
The No Child Left Behind Act requires states to hold schools and districts accountable for making AYP toward all students reaching proficiency. If a school or district fails to make AYP for two consecutive years, it must be identified for school improvement. While states are required to develop rewards and sanctions for all schools, the law specifies a number of consequences for those schools receiving Title I funds, beginning with notifying parents of students who attend the school in need of improvement, providing all students in the identified school with the option to transfer to another public school within the district, providing “supplemental services,” such as tutoring, to students attending low-performing schools, and providing assistance to the school or district identified. Additional sanctions are added, including ordering restructuring of the school, if a school identified for improvement continuously fails to make AYP.
As AYP requirements have increased, the number of schools failing to meet those requirements has grown. In 2007, 28 percent of schools failed to make AYP. By 2011, that number had risen to 38 percent, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan warned that 82 percent of school could be failing to meet AYP by the end of 2011 if Congress didn't rewrite the law (McNeil, April 28, 2011).
In some states, schools considered high-performing by other measures have failed to make AYP, causing considerable public confusion and concern. The numbers of schools not making AYP vary greatly from state to state for a number of reasons, mostly pertaining to differences in states’ tests and accountability systems (Center on Education Policy, 2011).
Because the policies underlying which schools fail to make AYP vary from state to state, it is not the reliable yardstick that advocates had hoped it would be when the NCLB law was passed in 2001, notes Jack Jennings, president and CEO of the Center on Education Policy. To keep their schools from failing, some states began lowering their cutoff scores, which determine whether a student is deemed “proficient." Others took advantage of the “safe harbor” provision of the law, which gives schools credit for making AYP if they see a 10 percent decline in the proportion of students who aren’t proficient within a particular subgroup, even if they fail to meet that year’s target. Meanwhile, other states, including California and Illinois, increased their annual performance targets and saw their failure rates rise. In California, 61 percent of schools failed to make AYP in 2010, up from 34 percent in 2006—an increase of nearly 3,000 schools. In Illinois, 51 percent of schools missed their targets in 2010, up from 18 percent in 2006, and the numbers could have been higher, since 15 percent of the state’s schools made AYP solely because of the law’s safe-harbor provision (McNeil, April 28, 2011; Center on Education Policy, 2011).
The effort to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act picked up in 2011, with lawmakers in both parties proposing a series of changes and debating how to more effectively and fairly hold schools accountable for student progress. Under the Obama administration's proposed blueprint for reauthorizing ESEA, there would still be accountability measures and consequences for failure, but the 2014 deadline would essentially go away, and states would be allowed more flexibility to intervene in struggling schools (McNeil, March 14, 2011).
In the states, meanwhile, there is some debate as to the wisdom or ability of the federal government to hold schools, districts, and states accountable for student achievement using AYP (Joftus et. al., 2002; Center on Education Policy, 2011). In fact, several states have voted to put their own education policies ahead of the NCLB and AYP standards. In April, 2005, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., signed a bill requiring schools to first and foremost follow the state’s U-PASS testing system, which itself has AYP standards, before conforming to NCLB guidelines (Sack, 2005). Other states have refused to follow parts of NCLB or have requested waivers from meeting parts of NCLB from the Department of Education (McNeil, April 22, 2011, July 5, 2011).
Proponents argue that the federal government must take an aggressive role to raise student achievement overall and to close the gap between groups of students that traditionally succeed in school and those that tend to struggle. AYP proponents insist NCLB addresses this goal by setting consistent goals for all schools and students and by ensuring that districts and states take responsibility for helping struggling schools (Wiener, 2003).
Critics, although not arguing against the intent of the law, have argued that the testing, data systems, and elements needed to implement NCLB and AYP are expensive and that the federal government is not paying its fair share of these costs (Orfield et al., 2004). Additionally, some critics argue that achieving 100 percent proficiency by 2014 will be extremely difficult and expensive, if not impossible, and sets schools up for certain failure (Cronin, 2004; Center on Education Policy, 2004). Having all student subgroups up to par—including special education students and English-language learners—is of particular concern.