NCLB Puts Spotlight on Public School Performance

Published October 1, 2003

This summer, state departments of education identified which public schools “need improvement” after failing to make “adequate yearly progress” for two years in a row under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.

Adequate Yearly Progress

For each state, making Adequate Yearly Progress requires continuous and substantial academic improvement for all students, with the same high standards of academic achievement applied to all students in a statistically valid and reliable manner. Academic achievement is measured as the percentage of students who meet state standards in reading and math for their grade level. For high schools, the standards also include a four-year graduation rate.

Under NCLB, states have established annual goals for student achievement such that the percentage of students meeting state standards increases gradually to 100 percent by 2014. Each school must report its performance against these annual state goals by the following student groupings, with at least 95 percent of the students in each group being tested:

  • All students
  • Racial/ethnic groups
  • Economically disadvantaged students
  • Students with disabilities
  • Students with limited English proficiency

Making Adequate Yearly Progress means a school meets all of the state’s proficiency goals for all student groups in a given year.

How Schools Performed

Although 87 percent of the public schools in Kansas achieved Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for all groups, in most states large percentages of schools failed to meet state achievement goals.

In Florida, for example, only 13 percent of the public schools met the state’s standards for AYP, which required at least 31 percent of students reading at grade level and 38 percent who could do grade-level math.

In California, only 37 percent of elementary schools and 20 percent of high schools achieved AYP, despite having relatively low achievement hurdles. For elementary schools, making AYP required having at least 13.6 percent of students able to demonstrate proficiency in English language arts, and 16 percent in math. For high schools, making AYP required having at least 11.2 percent of students showing proficiency in English language arts and just 9.6 percent in math.

In Delaware, 43 percent of schools met the state’s AYP requirements. In both Pennsylvania and Missouri, about half of the public schools in each state met the minimum standards in reading and math.

Schools Needing Improvement

When a school fails to make AYP for two years running, it is classed as “needing improvement.” Title I schools that need improvement are required to offer their students the option of transferring to a better public school. After three years of failing to make AYP–or the second year classified as in need of improvement–low-income students are eligible to receive free tutoring if they do not choose to exercise the transfer option.

In Chicago, for example, 365 of the city’s more than 600 schools were determined to be needing improvement, with some 270,000 students eligible for transfer. Although 19,246 students applied for transfers, the city supplied only 1,035 seats in better schools.

Although New York City was one of the few cities that got a tutoring program up and running last year, no date has been set for when tutoring will begin this year and no instructions have yet gone out to parents. Almost a quarter of a million students were eligible for tutoring last year because they were in schools needing improvement, but only about 30,000 students actually requested tutoring. Also, some 88 percent of all the tutoring was provided by the school system–which failed the students in the first place–rather than by for-profit and nonprofit tutoring services.

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].