AYP So Flawed It Should be Halted

K-12 Testing
The federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law's adequate yearly progress (AYP) mechanism is deeply flawed and should be suspended, according to a new study from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice. The policy brief was written by William Mathis, a Vermont superintendent who has previously studied the costs of implementing NCLB (see "Inadequate Funding Makes NCLB Worse," Examiner, Winter-Spring 2003). AYP is the NCLB requirement that each state determine the amount of progress each school must make each year in order to avoid being labeled "in need of improvement" and facing sanctions. Mathis argues that because there is no evidence of the validity or efficacy of using AYP to force improvement and close achievement gaps, the program and its sanctions should be stopped while research is conducted to answer these critical questions.


Mathis summarizes research and proposals for reforming NCLB to date, depicting a growing consensus for change. He rebuts proponents' claims that NCLB is achieving its goal of closing race-based achievement gaps. Contrary to U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings' assertion that recent score gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests prove "NCLB is working," Mathis underscores the lack of rigorous data to demonstrate either success or failure. "A close look at the data, however, shows that the pre-NCLB NAEP test score increases (2000 to 2003) were greater than those from the post-NCLB 2003 to 2005 years. Without more detailed research, therefore, one might as plausibly conclude that NCLB actually put a damper on increases." (For more on the NAEP results, see "NCLB Not Closing Score Gaps," Examiner, August 2006).


While there is no good evidence of NCLB's success, Mathis cites evidence of its flaws in four significant areas:

  • Poor and diverse schools are identified more frequently for sanctions.
  • Curriculum is being narrowed to the tested subjects, to the detriment of the larger educational mission.
  • NCLB lacks adequate funding to achieve its goals.
  • Existing student achievement growth rates and other data suggest AYP goals are unrealistic.

 Mathis concludes: "While the requirement to disaggregate scores by ethnic and socio-economic groups may cast a new spotlight on the national problem of the educational disadvantages of poor and minority children, there is as yet, no evidence that, by itself, AYP demands will adequately provide schools serving children in poverty with the facilities, the learning resources, the qualified staff, or community support services."