Why making adequate yearly progress can be a big deal

The Bloomington Herald-Times asked this question in a recent editorial: “With a vast majority of the state’s school corporations able to make AYP year after year — 94 percent made it this year — how is it that Monroe County’s public school systems aren’t?”

One part of the answer is that it’s a lot harder for large, diverse school corporations to make AYP (adequate yearly progress) under the No Child Left Behind Act than for small, homogenous school districts. Why? Because bigger and more diverse corporations have more opportunities to fail.

And compared to most Indiana school districts, the Monroe County Community School Corp. is big and diverse. It ranks No. 21 in enrollment among nearly 300 public school districts in the state.

Monroe County’s other public school district, Richland-Bean Blossom, did in fact make AYP year after year, for five years in a row, before missing it this year. The MCCSC made AYP this year after failing to do so for two previous years.

School corporations, in order to make AYP, must do two things: 1) meet required standards on state standardized tests for all students, or “overall AYP”; and 2) meet testing standards in at least one grade span – elementary, middle or high school – for each subgroup of students, such as special-needs students, minorities and those from low-income families.

But here’s the catch. For reasons of statistical fairness, subgroups “count” only if at least 30 students in the group took the state tests. Any school corporation with fewer than 30 tested students in a subgroup at any grade level – elementary, middle or high school – automatically makes AYP for that subgroup.

Suppose, for example, that School District A has only 29 high-school students in special education who are required to take state tests. It gets credit for making AYP for special education, regardless of how its special-education students scored on the tests at the elementary, middle or high-school level.

The same approach applies for other subgroups: students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, blacks, Latinos, Asians, students with limited English proficiency, etc. You can read all about this at the Indiana Department of Education AYP information page.

Not surprisingly, of the 17 Indiana school corporations that didn’t make AYP this year, most are large, urban districts by Indiana standards: Indianapolis Public Schools, Washington and Warren Township schools in Indianapolis, Gary, East Chicago, Anderson, Marion, Elkhart, Kokomo, Muncie, Columbus, etc.

Adequate Yearly Progress can be a useful tool for ensuring that schools don’t ignore kids in certain categories. But it doesn’t work as a way to compare large and small school corporations.

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