Only 22 of 163 Wake County public schools made adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind Act in the 2010-11 school year, according to preliminary testing results released by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
The numbers are down about 25 percent from the previous school year, when 61 out of 159 schools made adequate yearly progress.
One major reason is that the bar for making adequate yearly progress has been raised for the first time in three years.
Adequate yearly progress measures a school’s advancement toward one goal: 100 percent of students on grade level by 2014. That goal was set when No Child Left Behind was signed into law in 2001.
In other words, 100 percent of students have to pass state tests at the end of the 2013-14 school year in order to comply with the law.
The law gave each state the power to determine yearly targets or “stair steps” — incremental increases toward 100 percent. North Carolina has not increased its targets since the 2007-08 school year.
Since that year, in order to make adequate yearly progress, a school had to have 77.2 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 pass the end-of-grade test in math. Only 43.2 of students in those grades had to pass reading end-of-grade tests to earn adequate yearly progress for the school.
In the 2010-2011 school year, the targets jumped to 88.6 percent in math and 71.6 percent in reading.
Tenth-graders also had more stringent standards this time: 69.3 percent in reading and 84.2 percent in math. That’s up from 38.5 percent in reading and 68.4 percent in math.
But No Child Left Behind also charged states with identifying subgroups of students to determine how each performed. These subgroups are defined by race, socioeconomic status and other characteristics such as language proficiency and disability. North Carolina identifies up to 10 subgroups.
If any one subgroup performs below the target, the school did not make adequate yearly progress, even if the student body as a whole hit the target.
“That’s often the thing perceived as unfair,” said Lou Fabrizio, director of Accountability Policy and Communications for the state Department of Public Instruction.
Because some schools have more subgroups than others, more diverse schools can be at a disadvantage when determining adequate yearly progress, also known as AYP, results.
“That’s why it’s important to get away from “Did a school make AYP or not make AYP?’ but look at what percentage of targets did you make,” Fabrizio said. “That’s what makes schools go nuts.”
What happens when a school doesn’t make adequate yearly progress?
Consequences of failure to meet adequate yearly progress depend on the school. Schools that receive Title I funding — that’s money for high-poverty schools — have higher stakes.
If a Title I school goes two years in a row without making progress goals, it must offer its students the chance to go to another school that did make adequate yearly progress. Districts can circumscribe the choice.
“It’s not like, ‘Now I can pick any school in the county and have my kids go there,” Fabrizio said. “It doesn’t work that way.”
Continued failure to make adequate yearly progress can lead to bringing in an outside educational management firm and eliminating the principal and teachers.
Non-Title I schools must create or update school improvement plans when they do not make adequate yearly progress for two years in a row. These plans delineate how the school will make adequate yearly progress the following year but impose no other sanctions.
“Unfair and unrealistic”
Some see as misguided the No Child Left Behind Act’s use of adequate yearly progress to meet its goal of 100 percent proficiency.
“I continue to believe that this method of labeling schools is unfair and unrealistic because there is no recognition for schools that are making significant progress and performing well with nearly all of their students,” wrote State Superintendent June Atkinson in a press release earlier this week.
Some criticism has to do with mathematical realities. Jayne Fleener, Dean of the College of Education at North Carolina State University, noted that 100 percent is an extremely rare event in statistics.
“I’m not sure that’s reasonable,” Fleener said. “Either you move really slowly by tracking challenging thinking or you do low-level tracking and get to 100 percent right away because the benchmark is low.”
Indeed, some schools that attain remarkable growth in 2010-11 still did not make the progress goal. Moore Square Middle, for instance, achieved an overall 8 percent jump in its students on grade level but fell short of the cutoff in four of its targets.
Some schools fared better this year than last. East Wake School of Engineering Systems, one of four high schools on the East Wake campus, made adequate yearly progress in 2010-11 after missing two of its targets the previous school year.
East Wake Engineering Principal Sebastian Shipp attributes his school’s success to “being able to get our staff focused on drilling down the needs of every single student in our school by identifying early which students could have potential academic trouble.”
Shipp feels confident that his teachers can bring all students up to grade level by 2014, but there are complications.
“As the students change each year, you always have to start at the beginning,” he said.