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U.S. SECRETARY OF EDUCATION ESTIMATES 8,600 SCHOOLS NEED IMPROVEMENT: 3.5 Million Students Would be Left Behind

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"The worry I have," he told Education Week, "is that states that have been doing a good job-that is, they've established ambitious targets- are going to be tempted to lower their standards and to water down their tests. And that would be counter to what I think most of the people who were behind the law really wanted to happen."

U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige recently estimated that 8,600 schools, serving as many as 3.5 million students, would fail to meet adequate yearly progress goals under the No Child Left Behind Act. The U.S. Department of Education is reporting this information based on state standards and the most recently available state data. In some cases, states have taken issue with the estimate because it is based on information reported a few years ago.

No Child Left Behind Brings Changes to 1994 Law

The 1994 Elementary and Secondary Education Act required each state to develop state content standards, assessments and definitions of adequate yearly progress (AYP) but allowed for great latitude in how a state measures such progress. As a result, some states defined progress as closing the achievement gap between subgroups of students, while others defined it as meeting certain test scores on state tests. A third group measured growth or progress on state tests from one year to the next. Regardless of its measuring stick, a school that failed to make state-defined AYP for two or more years was identified as in need of “school improvement.”

Under No Child Left Behind, any Title I elementary or secondary school that fails to make adequate yearly progress for two consecutive years must give students the opportunity to attend other public schools, with the district using a portion of Title I money to pay for transportation. If a school fails a third consecutive year, its disadvantaged students are eligible for “supplemental services” such as tutoring, after-school help, and summer school.

Test results from the 2001-02 and 2002-03 school year will determine the first round of schools failing to make progress under the law, but almost all schools currently identified as in need of “school improvement” under the 1994 law will have to provide public school choice and supplemental services as early as fall 2002.

Effect in the States

Because the 1994 law allowed states to define adequate yearly progress in a variety of ways, some states are being hit harder than others by the AYP standard. For example, two states, Arkansas and Wyoming, reported having no schools that failed to meet standards for two consecutive years. On the other hand, Louisiana and North Carolina found that up to 80 percent and 65 percent, respectively, of their schools could be identified as needing improvement.

In Kentucky, 107 schools were identified as failing, but some of the Kentucky schools on Paige’s list had only slight decreases in their test scores-and some had even made dramatic improvements. For example, Wrigley Elementary was one of the highest-scoring schools in the state for the past four years, but slipped a few points in 1999 and 2000, triggering an assistance designation in the state system. Another school, Oneida Elementary, improved by 20 points last year, but was classified as a failing school based on 1998-2000 scores.

Michigan identified more than 1,500 schools as chronically failing, more than any other state. That accounts for about one-third of the state’s public schools, but state officials said the high number reflects the rigor of Michigan’s standards and tests.

States that have set very high standards may find it difficult to bring all students up to the “proficient” level by 2014, as required by No Child Left Behind. Faced with this difficulty, Robert Linn, the co-director of the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing and professor of education at the University of Colorado at Boulder, fears that many states will take the easy route and adjust their standards. “The worry I have,” he told Education Week, “is that states that have been doing a good job-that is, they’ve established ambitious targets- are going to be tempted to lower their standards and to water down their tests. And that would be counter to what I think most of the people who were behind the law really wanted to happen.”

Education Week article, “Frustration Grows as States Await ‘Adequate Yearly Progress’ Advice.”

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