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An NCLB Challenge: Adequate Yearly Progress for All Students

by Carol Fry Bohlin (News Bulletin, December 2003)

On January 8, 2002, President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), which states that by 2013-14, all students—including students with disabilities and those lacking English proficiency—must be proficient in reading/language arts and mathematics. In compliance with NCLB, state education officials hastened to develop detailed state accountability plans to address guidelines that were being concurrently finalized by the U.S. Department of Education.

The final accountability designs, which were due May 1, 2003, had to address 10 principles outlined by Education Secretary Rod Paige ( and had to include the following performance indicators on which a determination of "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) would be based: proficiency in reading/language arts and in mathematics, participation rates on reading/language arts and on mathematics assessments, high school graduation rates, and at least one additional indicator at the K-8 level. Although all states were required to follow these basic guidelines, each state's accountability system could reflect that state's education goals, standards, and assessments—thus, each state plan is distinctive.

The latitude given to states to determine their assessment instruments, baseline scores for 2001-02, and definitions of "proficiency" has contributed to a wide variation in the states' AYP "success rates" this year (e.g., nearly 90 percent of Florida's schools failed to show AYP, while almost 80 percent of Connecticut's schools met AYP targets).

Some school officials have expressed frustration about the expectation of NCLB that students in all subgroups (racial/ethnic, language proficiency, etc.) must demonstrate significant academic growth in order for a school to meet AYP goals. An additional challenge is that federal funding for NCLB is well below levels originally designated for its implementation, a situation that is fueling frustration in many schools and school systems that are struggling to avoid eventual sanctions for failing to show AYP.

Still, there are states where officials were buoyed by recent statewide results. California's Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell recently released 2002-03 Academic Performance Index Growth reports showing that 90 percent of California's public schools improved their scores, and that 78 percent of schools met their academic performance targets—a 26-point gain from 2002.

"This is terrific news," said O'Connell. "I am very proud of our entire education community and am encouraged by the outstanding academic progress our schools are making. These scores show that when given clear standards, even if they are rigorous, our students can and will learn the curriculum."

For More Information

  • The Education Trust released What New "AYP" Information Tells Us About Schools, States, and Public Education.  
  • A recent episode of NOW with Bill Moyers examined NCLB; a debate of the topic can be found at
  • The Education Commission of the States provides NCLB information and guidance at


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