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A breakdown of the AYP testing system
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With recent reports showing the Newton County School System failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) this year and that Georgia as a whole did poorly, many are wondering just what AYP is and why we in Newton County care.

AYP came about as part of the No Child Left Behind act, which was signed into law in January 2002 by then President George Bush, and took the place of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. The idea is to measure student achievement annually by looking at their scores on the Criterion Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) and for each state to "raise the bar" annually so that by 2013-2014, all students will have achieved proficiency in each subject area.

CRCT tests students in reading/English language arts and mathematics up to grade three, when science and social studies testing are added. Students in grades three, five and eight must pass the math and reading portion of the test to advance to the next grade.

Each school must meet AYP as a whole and by disaggregated student population groups. The groups are specified by the law and are race/ethnicity, students with disabilities, English language learners and economically disadvantaged students. If even one of these subgroups of students fails to pass a portion of

the CRCT test, then the entire school will fail AYP. Statistically, many schools in Newton County fail the test due to the students with disabilities subgroup.

"AYP reporting does not solely rely on the performance of ‘all students’ as a group, though it does report the performance of all students as a group," said NCSS Superintendent Dr. Gary Mathews. "On the other hand, AYP really focuses on ‘subgroups’ of students so that school systems, in terms of accountability, cannot ‘mask’ the performance of the system by reporting an ‘average’ score for the student body as a whole. AYP demands that school systems report results for each subgroup of students. In other words, the question is: How well does each subgroup perform in addition to the student body as a whole?"

According to Mathews, in the preliminary results for the NCSS, 89 percent (7,191) of all third through eighth grade students tested in the reading/English language arts portion of the CRCT met or exceeded the passing standard, while only 64 percent (647) of the system’s students with disabilities subgroup met or exceeded state standards.

"At least 73.3 percent of students had to meet or exceed state standards to make AYP in reading/English language arts in grades three through eight for the 2009-2010 school year for the category known as ‘All Students,’" explained Mathews. "NCSS did not make AYP as the result of this subgroup’s performance. All other subgroups made AYP in NCSS as far as grades three through eight reading/English language arts results are concerned. In the coming 2010-11 school year, 80 percent of each subgroup in NCSS will have to meet or exceed state standards in order to make AYP on the CRCT in reading/English language arts. That’s quite a jump to be made."

So what happens if AYP is not met? Schools and districts that receive Title 1 funds (a Title 1 school is a school where at least 35 percent of the children are from low-income families) – of which Newton County does – and which do not meet AYP for two consecutive years, will face certain consequences. After not meeting AYP for two years in a row the school is labeled as Needs Improvement. The NCSS must offer school choice, which allows parents to transfer their students to another school in the system which has not been identified as a Needs Improvement school. The system must also provide transportation.

If the school does not meet AYP for three years in a row, they must continue to offer choice and transportation and must also offer parents supplemental services, such as tutoring, to low-achieving students. For a school that does not meet AYP for six consecutive years, they must also replace all or most of the relevant school staff and contract with an outside entity to operate the school, among other things.

"Citizens will recall that under the No Child Left Behind law, school systems must reach 100 percent proficiency for each subgroup by 2014," said Mathews. "How realistic is this? In my letter to then President-Elect Obama, published in Virginia’s Daily Press, I urged the consideration of three different scenarios for determining AYP, one of which was a ‘value added’ model by which the same group of children is measured for progress from year to year and from grade to grade.

"In other words," Mathews continued, "‘growth’ for the various subgroups would be the object of our endeavors as we realize that 100 percent of students will not pass every state test at every grade level at a particular point in time during any given year. Indeed, test expert, Robert Linn, writing in the New York Times on Oct. 13, 2008, notes that no society anywhere has brought 100 percent of its children to proficiency. While he has testified in Congress on occasion, the 100 percent standard remains intact for now.

"Having cited Dr. Linn’s professional opinion, I make no excuses for only 64 percent of our students with disabilities failing to meet or exceed state standards in grades three through eight in reading/English language arts," Mathews said. "In NCSS, we will only roll up our sleeves and do better. We can and we must. We only have to look next door to see a similar school system, in terms of demographics, earning AYP at every school for the last two years and as a district for the last five at least," he said, referring to Rockdale County.

Eight schools did not meet AYP this year in Newton County, although the scores are preliminary, and retests are still being calculated. Of those schools, only two had students as a whole which failed the math portion of the CRCT. The other six failed due solely to the performance of subgroups.

"While I am a supporter of school accountability as it shines the light on both student and adult performance in schools, as a parent of five children, I wish to remind us that neither Georgia’s tests, nor AYP, account for all that is important to learn in school," said Mathews. Appreciation of the arts, moral virtue, healthy habits, and good citizenship are but a few hallmarks of a truly well-rounded graduate of our public schools."

"Yes, they must read, write, and perform math with high levels of proficiency. But, they must also exit as a good human being."