Thursday, December 20, 2007


States across the nation have identified the schools or districts that did or did not make "adequate yearly progress," or "AYP" under NCLB - this is what is driving Superintendent Brewer's High Priorities Schools Initiative. But the question that provides the most insight into a school’s performance is not whether a school made AYP, but rather how a school did or did not make AYP.

by: Erin Dillon & Andrew J. Rotherham from Education

July 24, 2007 When Congress passed the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2001, the law's passage initiated a new educational ritual that plays out each summer: States, in reporting on student achievement, announce the schools that did or did not make "adequate yearly progress," or "AYP." Under NCLB, states must hold schools accountable for improving student performance. Specifically, the law requires states to set performance targets that schools must meet. The goal is to ensure that all schools improve their performance over time and have almost all of their students score "proficient" on state standardized tests by 2014.

This accountability system is a linchpin of the law, which is the latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. And, under NCLB, the consequences for missing AYP are substantial. Schools that do not meet performance targets for multiple years are deemed to be "in need of improvement" and face an escalating series of interventions, including giving students the chance to transfer to other public schools or using school funds for extra tutoring. These interventions can culminate in a school being completely restructured or even closed and reopened under new governance.

(See sidebar, "What Happens When a School Misses AYP?")

Also, NCLB's requirements for AYP are especially noteworthy because in order to meet them, schools must improve the performance of all groups of students, including minority and low-income students and those with disabilities, not just the overall average for students in the school. This was not the case with previous reauthorizations of the 1965 law. For instance, the 1994 version required states to set performance targets, but allowed states tremendous discretion and did not include the type of enforcement measures that are found under NCLB.

Yet, because the consequences for missing AYP under NCLB can be substantial, discussions of AYP often focus on a yes or no question: Did a particular school or school district make AYP or not? But the question that provides the most insight into a school's performance is not whether a school made AYP, but rather how a school did or did not make AYP.

In practice, there are several ways for schools and districts to make AYP. And making AYP looks different from state to state since NCLB allows each state to determine the specifics of how it calculates AYP. States can decide, for example, to average test scores across grades and years. This flexibility gives schools some leeway in meeting NCLB's requirements and makes the requirements less strict than they might appear at first. It also renders many of the common assumptions about AYP—that it requires schools to get every single student to proficiency by 2014, that it does not recognize year-to-year improvements in school test scores, and that all students must achieve at the same level—inaccurate. As NCLB comes up for reauthorization, much of the debate will be about AYP. Thus, understanding the "how" of AYP can help teachers, parents, the public, and the news media make sense of the debate and the central element of NCLB's accountability system.

This Education Sector Explainer provides these audiences with an aid to understanding how NCLB's accountability system works overall and in different states, without weighing in on the merits of the law's 2014 goal. We discuss the basics of "making" AYP and the multiple routes schools can take to get there, and we include data showing what the requirements are in each state to meet AYP this year and for the past two years.

Please download the full Explainer



For Release: How States Game the No Child Left Behind Act

Report updates Pangloss Index that ranks states on their NCLB progress; offers recommendations for Congress to close the law's loopholes.

For Immediate Release: November 13, 2007

Washington, D.C.—When policymakers in the White House and Congress wrote the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, their goal was to steadily raise the bar for academic achievement. But many states have undermined the spirit of the law by lowering achievement goals every year. A new report from Education Sector explains how these states are gaming NCLB's accountability system and doing so with the full approval of the U.S. Department of Education.

"The Pangloss Index: How States Game the No Child Left Behind Act," features a composite index of state rankings based on annual reports that states submit to the federal government detailing their progress under NCLB. Ideally, the index should show which states are doing the best job of educating their students. Instead, the index is more indicative of which states have simply chosen to define themselves as doing well. Education Sector first unveiled the Pangloss Index in a 2006 report "Hot Air: How States Inflate Their Progress Under NCLB."

In this new report, Research and Policy Manager Kevin Carey updates the index for 2007 and reveals that in some states, not much has changed: Wisconsin and Iowa still fill the top two slots, defining themselves as educational utopias, while Massachusetts, which is one of the highest-performing states nationally, is ranked near the bottom, holding itself to tougher standards.

But some states changed their rank substantially. And none increased its position more than Alabama, which jumped from 22nd to 5th. Carey chronicles Alabama's progress under NCLB and demonstrates that this didn't happen because students in Alabama and in similar states learned much more than they did the year prior. It happened because state departments of education manipulated NCLB in such a way that no other result was possible.

"The Pangloss Index: How States Game the No Child Left Behind Act" provides specific recommendations for Congress as it prepares to reauthorize NCLB, including ways to close the loopholes that states have routinely used to undermine the nation’s most important education law.

Read "The Pangloss Index: How States Game the No Child Left Behind Act." Detailed information about how your state measures up on the 2007 "Pangloss Index" is available upon request.

This publication was made possible by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Education Sector is an independent education policy think tank devoted to developing innovative solutions to the nation’s most pressing educational problems. We are nonprofit and nonpartisan, both a dependable source of sound thinking on policy and an honest broker of evidence in key education debates throughout the United States.


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