August 2003 / Adequate Yearly Progress

Question Mark
Ask the Superintendent: Adequate Yearly Progress
Superintendent's Column
Peninsula Clarion
D. Peterson

August 2003

Over a decade ago, Alaska launched a massive effort called the Alaska Quality Initiative.  Part of that initiative was defining what ALL students should know and be able to do as a result of their educational experience.  Businesses, parents, students, and educators came together setting the Alaska content and performance standards.  The next step was the development of tests/assessments to measure student performance against these standards.

Last year, the Federal Government adopted the No Child Left Behind legislation requiring public schools around the country to report their performance.  Each state developed an accountability plan - Alaska was well on its way to the worthy goal of making sure every single student had the essential skills required for success in the world beyond school.  The Terra Nova and benchmark exams required of Alaska students in grades 3-10 became the basis for the Federal accountability plan.   

On August 20th, Alaska was required to report progress toward the target of each student making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).  AYP means that each student, for example in going from fourth to fifth grade, increases their reading, writing, and mathematics skills a year for each year of schooling.  That makes sense.  However, the Adequate Yearly Progress designation is much more complex.  Think of it as a puzzle with over 30 pieces.  If any one piece is missing, the puzzle isn't complete and the school doesn't make AYP. 

Two main components of AYP are participation and performance.  The measure used for participation is 95%.  That means 95% of the students have to take the test - not just in the whole school but also, each of the subgroups (like economically disadvantaged, different ethnic groups, learning disabled population).  Keep this in perspective - on a usual day in the school district, the attendance is about 90%.  If the school doesn't have 95% of the students there for the testing, they don't make AYP, no matter what their performance level is.

Performance is the area most parents and educators are interested in.  We want to know how students are doing.  But we also need to keep in mind that tests measure a very small slice of performance - basically the work of a student on a given day on a given test.  The information we use from these tests gives important specifics for designing instruction to meet the needs of all students.  The performance level increases over the 12 years of this legislation and the final target in 2014 is that 100% of the students will be proficient in reading, writing, and math - that means every single student, in every single subgroup including learning disabled.

If I could illustrate how this puzzle doesn't all fit together, we have a large school in our district that is performing at a level not required until 2009.  However, because only 26 of 29 students in an ethnic subgroup were tested we did not meet the 95% participation rate required in that subgroup and the school therefore did not make AYP.  One student more tested in that subgroup would have made the difference.  That doesn't mean that the data should be discounted, rather it should be put in perspective and used, especially in this first year of release to identify improvement measures.

So, how did the Kenai Peninsula Borough do as a district?  41 schools were tested (Sears and Paul Banks only have grades K-2 so they do not have results shown).  Of those 41, 20 of the schools made adequate yearly progress.  Of the 21 schools that did not make AYP, 10 missed it because of only one cell, 6 because of two cells, 3 because of three cells, and 2 because of four cells out of the possible 30 combinations.  Again, we have work to do, but the sky is definitely not falling nor are our schools failing.

As a teacher, the data that we now know about each student's performance each year is valuable and useful in designing instruction.  As a parent, the data about performance standards will assist in charting courses and direction and targeting help at home.  As a school and district, the information will be used to make a positive difference in the lives of students.  We will use the data to improve instruction.

What can parents do to help bring this puzzle all together?  First, let's make sure that students all get to school for the test.  This year's exams are scheduled for February 17-19th, 2004.  Just by showing up, our participation rates will increase and therefore several pieces of the puzzle will be in place.  Second, parents should review the data regarding their child's and school's performance.  Classroom teachers, principals and counselors will be available to answer questions and provide assistance and information. 

Thank you for working together to make a difference for all students.  The public school system is the cornerstone of our democracy and the performance levels of the majority of our students and schools demonstrates tremendous success.  We'll continue analyzing, reporting, and improving.