Federal

Steep Climb to NCLB Goal for 23 States

By David J. Hoff — June 02, 2008 7 min read

With the congressional effort to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act at a standstill, schools and districts will need to stay on target toward the law’s goal of 100 percent proficiency in reading and mathematics in the next six years—or else face sanctions or interventions.

That process will be especially hard in 23 states that made the achievement targets relatively easy to meet in the first years of implementing the 6-year-old federal law. Starting with the current school year, schools and districts in those states will have to make annual gains of 10 percentage points or more in the proportion of students scoring as proficient in those subjects, says a report released last month.

“These states were seemingly prudent in the beginning … because they felt they weren’t prepared” to help schools achieve rapid increases in student achievement, said Jack Jennings, the president of the Center on Education Policy, the Washington research group that produced the report. “But in a way, they delayed the day of reckoning.”

The process of determining whether a school makes adequate yearly progress, or AYP, under the federal law is so complicated that it’s impossible to estimate how many schools will fail to meet their AYP targets because their state will require these more-extensive achievement gains, Mr. Jennings said in an interview. But it’s clear, he added, that dozens—perhaps hundreds—of schools will fail to meet goals established in states that assumed that schools would be ready to make dramatic increases in student achievement in the years closer to the deadline.

“The odds are there will be a large number of schools not making adequate yearly progress” in those 23 states, he said.

‘Backloading’ Goals

Shortly after President Bush signed NCLB into law in 2002, states negotiated with the U.S. Department of Education over how they would design their testing systems to assess students in grades 3-8 and once in high school in reading and math. The plans also must chart the annual goals that schools and districts need to meet each year to make AYP.

Every state’s plan needed to culminate with all schools reaching the law’s goal that all students be proficient in the two subjects by the end of the 2013-14 school year.

Twenty-three states chose to set modest goals in the early years of implementing the law, with the belief that schools would rapidly improve student achievement as the deadline approached. Those decisions, which the report terms “backloading,” were based on research that suggests that efforts to improve schools start resulting in gains several years after they have been launched.

“It takes two to three years before things pick up,” said Arie van der Ploeg, a senior researcher for Learning Point Associates, a nonprofit research and consulting group based in Naperville, Ill.

The states also set modest goals at the start because they didn’t want to identify large percentages of schools for intervention under the NCLB law, mostly because they didn’t have much experience turning around low-performing schools.

“People said: ‘We have to invent the interventions,’ ” said Brian Gong, the executive director of the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment, a Dover, N.H., nonprofit group that assists states in designing their state testing and accountability systems. “They said: ‘We’re going to build in some time because we don’t quite know what to do.’ ”

Schools also were faced with new challenges, such as assessing students with disabilities based on their understanding of grade-level subject matter, said Mitchell D. Chester, the Massachusetts commissioner of education since May, who helped design Ohio’s “backloaded” achievement targets as a state education official there.

“It’s too early to tell,” Mr. Chester said, “whether we’ll see the acceleration in [achievement] gains.”

While those may be legitimate reasons to postpone ambitious achievement goals, states may also have made their decisions based on political considerations, said Kevin Carey, the research and policy manager for Education Sector, based in Washington.

Many of the 23 backloading states’ plans projected that major increases were to happen starting in the current school year, with an underlying assumption that Congress would have revised the 2013-14 goal or extended the deadline when the law was scheduled for reauthorization in 2007, he said.

“My guess is that those decisions were made with the reauthorization calendar firmly in mind,” said Mr. Carey, who compared the achievement timelines to adjustable-rate mortgages that offer homeowners low monthly payments in the short term. “They thought Congress would come along and refinance it for them.”

But the effort to reauthorize the NCLB law stalled last year. After failing to generate consensus for a proposal to renew the law, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, halted work on the bill last year. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., has said he would bring an NCLB bill before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, which he chairs.

But the committee’s agenda is uncertain after Sen. Kennedy announced last month that he has been diagnosed with brain cancer.

Now that it appears as though the achievement targets will remain in place, the 23 states identified by the Center on Education Policy “are just setting themselves up for failure,” Mr. Carey said.

‘Rapid and Steep Jumps’

Each state set targets for the percentage of students scoring as proficient—also called annual measurable objectives, or AMOs—based on the scores on its state test when the NCLB law was enacted. Many set the same AMOs for the first three years under the law, with the target jumping for another three years. Then the AMOs rise gradually as the 2013-14 school year approaches.

In analyzing the trajectories of all states, the Center on Education Policy found that 23 states set goals with small increases in the early years of the law’s implementation, followed by ambitious goals as the law’s deadline approached.

For example, California set its initial AMO for its middle school reading test at 13.6 percent of students scoring as proficient. That goal increased to 24.4 percent for 2004-05. Starting in the current school year, the AMO increases to 35.2 percent and will be followed by increases of more than 10 percentage points every year until 2013-14.

Steep Climb

California set modest proficiency goals for its elementary and middle school tests in English language arts for the first five years under the No Child Left Behind Act. Starting this year, the trajectory assumes rapid jumps.

BRIC ARCHIVE

SOURCE: California Consolidated State Application Accountability Workbook

By contrast, South Carolina’s AMO for high school reading started at 33.3 percent in the 2002-03 school year, and rose to 52.3 percent in the 2005-06 school year. It will increase to 71.3 percent in the 2008-09 school year before jumping to 90.3 for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years.

California’s trajectory requires schools to make “rapid and steep jumps” every year when the deadline is approaching, the report says, compared with South Carolina’s large increments every three years in the process.

California could have established more challenging AMOs than it did, said Mr. Carey, because it had several years of experience with its own accountability system before the NCLB law’s enactment.

“They delayed the hard work of having to identify and turn around the lowest-performing schools,” Mr. Carey said. Even though the state had an accountability system in place starting in 1999, it didn’t fully align the testing system with its standards until 2003. State officials decided to set low targets at first, said Deb V.H. Sigman, California’s deputy superintendent for assessment and accountability.

“The system was different enough, so we wanted to make sure people had full knowledge” of it before accelerating expectations, Ms. Sigman said in an interview.

‘Well Aware’ of Calendar

In Kentucky, another of the backloading states, officials set the AMO for elementary school math at 32 percent in the 2006-07 school year, and it is scheduled to increase by almost 10 percentage points each year until 2013-14.

The state decided to backload the goals as a way of phasing in the federal accountability system, which had expectations different from those of the state’s system, said Lisa Y. Gross, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky education department.

Kentucky educators know the state is expecting big increases starting in the current school year, Ms. Gross said, and are working to make their federal goals.

“Many schools are well aware of the rapidly approaching deadline for proficiency and are doing things to ensure that they are positioned to meet those goals,” said Ms. Gross. “Staff here is monitoring the progress closely, so that we can provide interventions and other services if needed.”

In the end, schools are unlikely to make such rapid progress, the CEP’s Mr. Jennings said.

The report notes that a recent evaluation of the NCLB law’s Title I program by the federal Education Department concluded that as few as 12 states would reach the goal of 100 percent proficiency based on their rates on increases in student achievement since 2002.

“The more serious question is whether this is the right target, and whether test scores are the right means for measuring which schools are meeting the targets,” Mr. Jennings said.

A version of this article appeared in the June 04, 2008 edition of Education Week as Many States Facing Tough Trek to Reach Universal Proficiency

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Making Digital Literacy a Priority: An Administrator’s Perspective
Join us as we delve into the efforts of our panelists and their initiatives to make digital skills a “must have” for their district. We’ll discuss with district leadership how they have kept digital literacy
Content provided by Learning.com
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How Schools Can Implement Safe In-Person Learning
In order for in-person schooling to resume, it will be necessary to instill a sense of confidence that it is safe to return. BD is hosting a virtual panel discussing the benefits of asymptomatic screening
Content provided by BD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
How Districts Are Centering Relationships and Systemic SEL for Back to School 21-22
As educators and leaders consider how SEL fits into their reopening and back-to-school plans, it must go beyond an SEL curriculum. SEL is part of who we are as educators and students, as well as
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Miguel Cardona: Schools Must Work to Win Trust of Families of Color as They Reopen
As Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona announced new school reopening resources, he encouraged a focus on equity and student engagement.
4 min read
Education Secretary nominee Miguel Cardona testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee during his confirmation hearing Feb. 3, 2021.
Now-U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee during his confirmation hearing in February.
Susan Walsh/AP
Federal CDC: Nearly 80 Percent of K-12, Child-Care Workers Have Had at Least One COVID-19 Shot
About four out of five teachers, school staffers, and child-care workers had first COVID-19 vaccine doses by the end of March, CDC says.
2 min read
John Battle High School teacher Jennifer Daniel receives her COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 11, 2021. Teachers received their first vaccine during an all-day event at the Virginia Highlands Higher Education Center in Abingdon, Va.
John Battle High School teacher Jennifer Daniel receives her COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 11at the Virginia Highlands Higher Education Center in Abingdon, Va.
David Crigger/Bristol Herald Courier via AP
Federal Ed. Dept. to Review Title IX Rules on Sexual Assault, Gender Equity, LGBTQ Rights
The review could reopen a Trump-era debate on sexual assault in schools, and it could spark legal discord over transgender student rights.
4 min read
Symbols of gender.
iStock/Getty
Federal Q&A EdWeek Q&A: Miguel Cardona Talks Summer Learning, Mental Health, and State Tests
In an interview after a school reopening summit, the education secretary also addressed teachers' union concerns about CDC guidance.
10 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during a press briefing at the White House on March 17, 2021.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona speaks during a press briefing at the White House on March 17.
Andrew Harnik/AP