To Save NCLB, Feds Ease AYP

K-12 Testing

Federal education officials’ recent moves to grant states’ flexibility in meeting the demands of the No Child Left Behind law reflect an acknowledgment that schools are not making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) at a pace that will get them to the goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014. In recent months, the U.S. Department of Education has granted requests from Florida, Missouri, Virginia, Georgia and Maryland, all of which make it easier for the states to report more schools making AYP.


Even before NCLB was signed into law, test experts predicted that its ultimate goal was unreasonable (Examiner, Summer 2001). Now, facing catastrophe, federal officials have been collaborating with some states to reduce the number of schools failing to make AYP, even though the changes will only defer, not solve, the problem.


Florida, for example, was allowed by federal officials to make two changes to its NCLB plan. Under the first, schools will not have to count student test scores toward AYP unless a demographic subgroup makes up 15 percent of the school population, instead of just 30 students.


The second change scaled down the size of the leap required this year to keep up with AYP. Instead of having to increase proficiency rates from 31 percent to 48 percent in reading, and from 38 percent to 53 percent in math, only 37 percent of students must score proficient in reading in 2004-05, and 44 percent in math. Largely as a result of these changes, 400 more Florida schools made AYP this year than last. Missouri was granted a comparable request, reducing its language arts proficiency target from 38.8 to 26.6 percent and its math target from 31.1 to 17.5 percent.


According to the Harvard Civil Rights Project, Georgia has 12 districts now labeled as failing, rather than the 115 (out of 181) that would have been had the state’s rules not changed.


Maryland was granted permission to exclude the scores of some disabled students from AYP calculations. In many districts, it is the scores of disabled students alone that prevent schools from achieving AYP. Other states are expected to follow suit.


Connecticut’s high-profile battle to limit testing to just three grades has netted it condemnation from U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who singled out the state for its race-based achievement gap, though many states face similar gaps. Federal officials told Connecticut it must abide by the requirement to test annually in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, but it could use cheaper multiple-choice tests instead of its current Connecticut Mastery Tests, which are more expensive to score because they include writing.


Connecticut Board of Education Chairman Allan B. Taylor did not welcome the advice. “We don’t want to dumb down our test. ... I don’t think that’s what Congress wanted,” Taylor said.


Spelling has been quoted repeatedly saying the essence, or linchpin, of the law is increased testing.