Magazine article Kennedy School Review

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001: Is the Definition of "Adequate Yearly Progress" Adequate?

Magazine article Kennedy School Review

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001: Is the Definition of "Adequate Yearly Progress" Adequate?

Article excerpt


The purpose of this study is to examine the effectiveness of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001(NCLB) in determining students' annual academic progress, also known as adequate yearly progress (AYP). Specifically, it examines the extent to which the outcomes of an achievement-based accountability system--on which NCLB is based--and a growth-based accountability system agree. It builds on previous studies by conducting a state-wide examination of Tennessee schools that served students in grades three, four, and/or five during the 2002-2003 school year. This data set encompasses 992 schools that collectively served 497,171 students. The results underscore previous findings that the current, achievement-based definition of AYP does not adequately indicate student academic progress, and this paper discusses two specific cases in which current determinations of AYP must be interpreted with caution. The results also illustrate the negative unintended consequences of an achievement-based definition of AYP in regard to schools that serve racial and ethnic minorities and economically disadvantaged students.


Defining student academic progress for the purposes of education policy is a hotly debated issue, particularly since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). NCLB not only requires states to define students' adequate yearly progress (AYP), but it also requires school districts to determine whether its schools, and subgroups of students within the schools, have made AYP; publicly report these outcomes; and implement prescribed actions in schools that do not make AYP--which range from offering students the opportunity to transfer to another public school to restructuring the school's governance. (1)

Student academic progress may be evaluated by using either achievement- or growth-based measures; AYP is currently expressed in terms of achievement levels. In Tennessee elementary schools, applying this definition of AYP has resulted in an unintended negative consequence: over two-thirds of the schools that are closing the Black-White achievement gap are subject to penalties instead of rewards.

As such, the current definition of AYP is not adequate, and reforms to NCLB are needed. Specifically, broadening the definition of AYP to include consideration of students' academic growth would provide a more complete sense of their yearly progress than the current AYP metric.

Increasing Focus on Educational Accountability

The United States has been moving toward increased accountability for its primary and secondary education systems since the 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk, the National Commission on Excellence in Education's report to the nation, which warned that "the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation [sic] and a people." (2) In the process, the country's conversation about education has been shifting from inputs to outcomes. Citizens are increasingly evaluating their schools based on student academic progress, versus the level of per-pupil spending, teacher salaries, and class sizes.

"Accountability in education has been described as a 'tripod' made up of standards, tests that measure whether those standards have been reached, and penalties or rewards linked to performance on the tests." (3) Beginning with the Reagan administration and standards-based reforms, the federal government has proposed and implemented various components of such an accountability system. (4) Congress established the first federal education "accountability mandate" for states in 1994, requiring "local schools to show, by means of tests, annual student progress toward a state-designated standard of educational proficiency." (5)

Policy makers' interest in, and support for, educational accountability continued to grow. In 2001, accountability provided "a unifying theme for the NCLB debate that could garner broad agreement in principle. …

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