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The proportion of schools failing to make adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind Act last school year rose to 38 percent, up 5 percentage points from the year before, as the 2014 deadline for getting all students “proficient” in reading and math approaches, says a recent report issued by the Center on Education Policy.
At the same time, individual states’ progress toward that goal varies widely, based on the center’s analysis of state test data released last month. In Texas, for example, only 5 percent of schools failed to make AYP in the 2009-10 school year, and in Wisconsin, only 6 percent. That stands in stark contrast to the District of Columbia, where 91 percent of schools did not make sufficient progress, or Florida, where 86 percent were unsuccessful.
Those latest data from the Washington-based education policy organization comes as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan pushes Congress to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, of which the NCLB law is the latest version.
Criticism of the law’s AYP yardstick—including from Mr. Duncan—has mounted as schools chase what’s become an elusive goal of 100 percent proficiency. Not only are education advocates worried about schools’ failure to meet that goal, but many also feel that the measure of schools’ performance is becoming an invalid tool.
Mr. Duncan, who is concerned about the label attached to what he calls “failing” schools, has warned that a huge proportion of schools will fall short this year if Congress does not act.
“Eighty-two percent of America’s schools could be labeled ‘failing’ [in 2010-11] and, over time, the required remedies for all of them are the same—which means we will really fail to serve the students in greatest need,” he said in March.
But getting to that 82 percent figure for the current school year would require more than doubling 2010’s showing of 38 percent in one year’s time—which seems “very unlikely,” said Jack Jennings, the center’s president and chief executive officer.
The percentage of schools that have not made adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind Act has increased overall since 2006.
SOURCE: Center on Education Policy
“We stand by our analysis,” department spokesman Justin Hamilton said. “And whether you think that NCLB is on track to label 62, 72, 82, or 100 percent of our schools as failing in the near to immediate future, the bottom line is the law is broken and needs to be fixed this year.”
The law sets annual performance targets for students and for smaller subgroups, such as English-language learners and special education students. In moving toward the 2014 proficiency deadlines, schools and districts must make AYP gains each year or face an escalating set of sanctions.
But federal and state policies are, in fact, making it easier for schools to achieve AYP, said Mr. Jennings, who favors a more uniform accountability standard for all states.
Instead, some states are lowering cutoff scores, which determine whether a student is deemed “proficient.” Others are allowing students to retake tests, and more than a dozen states are using student-growth models for AYP purposes. In addition, the “safe harbor” provision of the law gives schools credit for making AYP if they see a 10 percent decline in the number of students who aren’t proficient, even if they fail to meet that year’s target.
“The states seem to find different ways to soften the blow,” Mr. Jennings said.
The national AYP average is influenced by big swings in large states.
Between 2006 and 2010, the percentage of schools nationwide not making the grade jumped to 38 percent from 29 percent, driven by increases in four states: California, Florida, Illinois, and Missouri. In each of those states, as annual performance targets increased, more schools failed to make AYP. In California, for instance, 61 percent of schools failed to make it last year, 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.
Similarly, the jump in the percentage of schools falling short nationally from the 2008-09 to the 2009-10 school years was driven primarily by two states: New York and Oklahoma.
New York raised its cutoff scores and saw the percentage of schools not meeting AYP increase to 38 percent in a single year, from 12 percent. In Oklahoma, the percentage of unsuccessful schools nearly quadrupled, to 41 percent in 2010, after schools had to clear a much higher proficiency hurdle.
Because the policies underlying which schools do—and don’t—make AYP vary from state to state, it is not the reliable, universal yardstick that advocates had hoped it would be when the NCLB law was passed in 2001, Mr. Jennings said.
As Congress works to reauthorize the law, the report’s findings should serve as a warning that uniform rules governing states’ accountability systems are just as important as common academic standards and common tests, Mr. Jennings said.
“If we want some commonality so you can tell if Idaho’s system is as good as California’s,” he said, “you have to have some common measurement.”
A version of this article appeared in the May 11, 2011 edition of Education Week as Rising Proportion of Schools Falls Short on AYP, Study Says