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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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As an Effective Diagnostic Tool, Does AYP Measure Up?

Dr. Katie Klinger

STEM & Digital Equity Grantwriter & Education Technology Integration Expert

Reading local newspapers about yearly school progress can certainly be discouraging. And as backwards as it may seem, each article makes me wonder if we are indeed setting the "bar" for success too low? Too low, you say, when students often do not make the minimum proficiency set by each state?

Let me explain.

Recently, the number of schools that met Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in Hawaii was adjusted due to the formal appeal process. This has become an art form in itself: the method of validating which school "makes AYP" and "which one does not." For those of you to whom AYP is not a part of your daily lives, AYP can be viewed as an iron chain -- all its links must be equally strong. Any weakness in any link in the chain means failure, and a school does not "make AYP." For example, if you did not have 95 percent or above in student participation on the standardized tests, or if you had a subgroup (defined by ethnicity) of third grade students that did not score highly in mathematics, then your entire school does not "meet" AYP. It is an "all or nothing" score whose impact is tied to multilevel federal actions if the school accepts Title I federal money.

Therefore, we celebrated when four more schools were added to the list of making AYP in Hawaii, bringing the number of schools who are making progress to 51 percent (145 schools out of 286). In determining AYP progress, the cut off rate, or the "bar," was set by the state at 58 percent of the students meeting proficiency in reading, and 46 percent of the students meeting proficiency in mathematics. You heard that correctly: only 58 percent and 46 percent.

Looking at the Past

So, while I am not one to be negative, I am still one who wonders: What happens to the other 42 percent in reading and 54 percent in math who, year after year, are not the students who "meet proficiency"? As I reflected on this, I thought back to my own school years during the fifties and sixties.

Nearly fifty years ago, in 1962 and during another type of race (this time against the Soviet Union for world power), Admiral Rickover advocated for a drastic change to our nation's schools. He insisted that we add rigor back into our curriculum by focusing first on the three R's: reading, writing, and arithmetic, with less time for sports and "frill courses."

To his credit, he wanted more hours in the school year, criterion testing, and logical benchmarks for measurable progress so that parents could also understand the school system and their child's place within it. The admiral also pushed to abolish school principals and let the teachers run the schools. He showed very little respect for school boards and berated some teacher colleges, calling them "time-wasting seedbeds of boredom and illiteracy."

Obviously, the admiral had a firm line on his vision for school reform. But in reading this history behind his efforts, it brings us back again to the question: Why is it so that more than five decades later we still have almost half of our schools in a failing pattern of student achievement?

Through a New Lens

Maybe, if we reset the "bar" for a higher proficiency score, we might gain a larger picture of where the gaps are. It might be said that right now we are only looking at the 58 percent and 46 percent of the students who are in trouble. The picture might be vastly more challenging to our creativity if 95 percent of our student were not proficient in each area. We might even recognize improvements can still be made at higher levels than the schools.

For instance, in 2003, I remember sharing with the California Education Secretary Kerry Mazzoni that instead of issuing multiple or single subject teacher credentials, we should consider reclassifying the levels into grades K-3, 4-8, and 9-12. My logic was that there are many adults who would make great K-3 teachers, with the infinite patience and enthusiasm to perform the repetitive tasks it often takes to reach a younger child; yet these individuals are not entering into the teaching profession because of their fear of the skill sets needed for the current K-6 praxis testing.

I also pointed out that the angst for students transitioning from sixth grade to middle school would be minimized because their teachers would be trained to work with the unique needs of students in grades 4-8.

I know that rethinking how to get the most effective support to help our students reach a much higher "bar" is going to be on the top of my priority list this next year of 2011. Care to join me?

Dr. Katie Klinger

STEM & Digital Equity Grantwriter & Education Technology Integration Expert
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Comments (7)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Bryan Lindsey's picture

Subgroups for which schools are responsible under AYP are not merely "defined by ethnicity." Schools are also assessed on their service of subgroups distinguished by special education status, language proficiency, and income (as determined by eligibility for free or reduced-cost lunch).

Mark's picture

Our school did not meet on the special ed criterion and the income criterion.

However, some area schools did meet AYP goals, but had zero % for special education students who took the test. Not sure how they can do that.

Rob Bernstein's picture

To Dr. Klinger,

I feel your frustration for improvement in our schools, but even those who achieve the AYP may be ignoring fundamental improvement in special education. For example, autistic kids can get significantly better.

Dr. Katie Klinger's picture
Dr. Katie Klinger
STEM & Digital Equity Grantwriter & Education Technology Integration Expert
Blogger 2014

Dear Bryan, I agree with your statements...I was simply using the ethnicity as an example...I found it interesting that you included income as assessment...it is, but I had never really thought about it that way since it is a criteria for many services, including the ones you mentioned. Thanks for the new thought today...Warmly, Dr. Katie

Dr. Katie Klinger's picture
Dr. Katie Klinger
STEM & Digital Equity Grantwriter & Education Technology Integration Expert
Blogger 2014

Dear Mark, over here in Hawaii, if you have less than 40 students in a subgroup, even special education, you automatically meet AYP for that group since they are not considered large enough of a sample to count towards AYP. I hope that this was what you were referring to? Warmly, Dr. Katie

Dr. Katie Klinger's picture
Dr. Katie Klinger
STEM & Digital Equity Grantwriter & Education Technology Integration Expert
Blogger 2014

Dear Rob, you are so correct...in fact, I just finished designing a charter school over here in Hawaii for children with special needs. As there are many levels of special needs, including multiple levels of autism that I feel we are just really beginning to understand better, we do need to be very open to ensuring that their needs are also met. For instance, my godson is a grown man with Asperger's ....and his challenges are very unique...yet when he was growing up, he had to have private education because the public schools were not making progress...so I am very excited to see the recent webinars about autism that are proliferating the web now for educators and parents. Thanks for bringing this into our discussion. Warmly, Dr. Katie

Tezella G. Cline's picture
Tezella G. Cline
Professional Development Specialist/ Lenoir County Public Schools

It is, to say the least, a very exciting time in education. We are enduring so many changes. Some good and some, well... The idea of testing every student on standardized tests can be very helpful and challenging. I believe we must make sure; however, that we use results to help and not harm. By harm I mean... for example, what good does it do to 'label' students and schools over and over each year... with, 'failure'... Sometimes this occurs and no real change ever comes. In other cases; however, the testing and identification helps to light a much-needed fire under us all and get us motivated to make a difference in the lives of all children! All really does mean all. We can't afford to leave out a single group or even one child. All deserve the very best educational services possible. We are striving for that, but sometimes some of the tests don't measure or show that progress really has been made. IF nothing else though, this has brought attention to the populations of students such as the autistic, who may have never really been served or helped in the past. I appreciate the opportunity to hear your thoughts and share with others!

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