AYP 'Balloon Payment' Coming Due, Say Researchers


California may be in for a(nother) shock to its education system: According researchers, virtually every elementary school in the state will fail to meet NCLB adequate yearly progress goals by 2014. And the same fate may await other states that have adopted similar approaches to AYP: setting low initial goals and ramping them up steeply to meet full proficiency by 2014.

In a study funded by the National Science Foundation and published in the journal Science, a team of researchers led by Rich Cardullo, Department of Biology chair at the University of California, Riverside, studied assessment data from more than 4,900 elementary schools from school years 2002-2003 to 2006-2007 and projected that almost all schools will fail to meet AYP by 2014. Beginning in 2010-2011, average proficiency in English language arts (ELA) will fall short of AYP; and by 2011-2012 the same will happen with math proficiency.

California, like 22 other states, set low AYP goals for itself initially and now faces a steep uphill climb to hit 100 percent proficiency by 2014.

"To use an analogy from the housing world, the balloon payment is about to hit," Cardullo said in a statement released last week by the NSF. And although California was the only state studied in the research project, it might not be alone: "Although each state has its own specific assessments and cutoff scores for determining proficiency, what is happening in California is possibly a good indicator of what is occurring in other states, and perhaps the entire nation," he said.

So why is this happening?

"Most states--and the federal government--have been reporting gains in the state-wide percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on standardized tests to suggest that accountability measures are effective at increasing student learning," Cardullo said. "What is being lost, however, is the information in the distributions. By focusing attention on average scores of the highest performing students we risk ignorance of the progress of the lowest performing students, potentially leaving behind those that were to be served by NCLB."

And those lowest-performing students, according to Cardullo, "will ultimately determine the proficiency of a school, district or state."

He said, "For most schools, the greatest risk of failing AYP lies with ELA proficiency. It is the Socioeconomically Disadvantaged and English Language Learner subgroups within the schools that are most likely going to fail to meet AYP in California. Given the weakness of ELA progress, no doubt more emphasis needs to be placed on ELA. But what we emphasize in our paper is that schools are also in need of support in mathematics since the current data trends, if not altered, predict nearly 100 percent failure of all schools by 2014 in meeting AYP."

According to information released by UC Riverside, Cardullo and his colleagues are calling for "reforms based on research that would tie educational experiences to instructional challenges of a particular school, while focusing each school's resources to serve its own unique student population."

The research project was funded through NSF's Math and Science Partnership program. The complete paper can be read by AAAS members on the Science magazine Web site here. Additional details can also be found in an article published by NSF here. Supplemental materials, including methodology, can be downloaded in PDF form here.

About the Author

David Nagel is the former editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal, STEAM Universe, and Spaces4Learning. A 30-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art, marketing, media, and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/davidrnagel/ .