Adequate Yearly Progress

This version was published in 2004. An updated version is available from 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). AYP, however, is not a new concept; it was introduced into federal law in the 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The number of schools likely to face sanctions in upcoming years is significant.

Under NCLB, AYP is used to determine if schools are successfully educating their students. NCLB 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. NCLB’s ultimate goal is to have all students reaching proficient levels by 2014 as measured by performance on state tests. (Keegan, Orr, and Jones, 2002). The standards are required to be tested yearly in grades 3 through 8 and at least twice for high school students. 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 the spring of 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 the spring of 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 four “subgroups”: economically disadvantaged students, students from major racial and ethnic groups, students with disabilities, and students with limited English proficiency;
  • To make AYP, at least 95 percent of students in each of the four 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 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 if schools or districts identified for improvement continuously fail to make AYP for several years.

The number of schools likely to face sanctions in upcoming years is significant. In the U.S., there were at least 19,644 schools that did not make AYP in 2003-04 and at least 11,008 schools were identified as in need of improvement (Quality Counts 2005). Many analysts expect the numbers to increase as the percent of students required to be proficient rises each year until 2014 when all students are expected to be proficient.

Some states report large numbers of schools that are not making adequate yearly progress, including some schools considered high performing by other measures, 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, rather than their quality of education (Center on Education Policy, 2004).

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. According to some reports, AYP will significantly challenge district and state accountability systems (Joftus et. al., 2002; Center on Education Policy, 2004). In fact, several states have voted to put their own education policies ahead of the NCLB and AYP standards. In April, 2005, Utah Governor, 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 are may follow in Utah’s footsteps and redefine progress based on their own preexisting standards systems.

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, argue 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.

Cronin, M., “Critics Say the ‘No Child’ Program Is a Setup for Public School Failure,” Salt Lake Tribune (February 23, 2004).
Joftus, S. et. al, School Administrator’s Guide to ESEA Formula Grants. Washington, DC: Thompson Publishing Group, 2002.
Keegan, L., et. al., “Adequate Yearly Progress: Results, not Process,” in Thomas B. Fordham Foundation (ed.), No Child Left Behind: What Will It Take?, papers prepared for a conference sponsored by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, 2002. Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader
Orfield, G., et. al., "Inspiring Vision, Disappointing Results: Four Studies on Implementing the No Child Left Behind Act," The Civil Rights Project, Harvard University, 2004.