Whether schools, including those in Ohio, make adequate yearly progress (AYP) under federal law is as much a product of inconsistent rules set by state education officials as of actual pupil achievement, according to a new study from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

The Accountability Illusion study (see here) ana­lyzed the performance of 36 real schools in 28 states, then analyzed which would make AYP under the different No Child Left Behind rules set by each state. Of 18 elementary schools, 17 would make AYP in Wisconsin and 15 in Arizona, but only one would make the grade in Massachusetts and Nevada. In some states most of these elementary schools would "need improvement" while other states would give them passing marks.

"This study proves that the current AYP system under NCLB isn't truly working," said the study's lead author John Cronin, from the Kingsbury Center at NWEA, a national non-profit education research organization. "The current system doesn't help improve our schools."

The researchers found Ohio's proficiency standards are relatively easy. Most of Ohio's cut scores are below the 35th percentile. Looking across the 28 state accountability systems surveyed, the number of elementary schools that made AYP in Ohio was exceeded in just six other states. Within Ohio, ten of 18 elementary schools and 16 of 18 middle schools sampled failed to make AYP in 2008 under the state's accountability system. The data examined for Ohio came from 2005-2006, before the state included a value-added measure to calculate its adequate yearly progress, although Ohio's data still help understand AYP from a national perspective.

Under NCLB, to avoid sanctions, states must bring all students in grades three through eight to proficiency in reading and math by 2014. It's up to individual states, however, to define proficiency as well how it's determined.

Rather than scrap NCLB or federalize standards, Fordham Institute President Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Vice President Michael Petrilli suggest in a foreword to the study that the federal government should create incen­tives for states to agree to comprehensive common standards. Results for all schools should be published but state could still decide what to do with schools that don't measure up.

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