Corbett School District Makes AYP by Randy Trani

What is AYP?

The short story is we made AYP!  But what is AYP?  AYP stands for “Adequate Yearly Progress”. The term AYP has become intimately linked with legislation known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  The terms AYP and NCLB certainly sound noble.  No one wants to leave children behind!  And isn’t making bare bones adequate progress a sound aspiration?  Politicians are very good at crafting terms that sound clear and uncomplicated, even appealing.  Sometimes the names of political terms are misleading, cloaked in obfuscation, or grossly oversimplify a complicated subject.

AYP is a set of targets that schools and districts must meet each year in reading and math.  Originally, the targets were low; 40% of your students had to pass standardized grade leveled tests in math and reading.  Then they ratcheted up to 50% for three years, then 60% for three years, and now they are quickly ratcheting up by 10% a year until, a few short years from now, every school must have every student pass every test at grade level or fail to make AYP.  In other words the new targets are quickly approaching 100%!

Schools that fail to make AYP go through an ever increasing gauntlet of sanctions which can lead to firing most of the staff at a school or turning operation of the school over to the state. In some states private for profit businesses have taken over public schools, and in others the entire school or district has been turned into a charter school.

At the July School Board meeting, Principal Phil Pearson gave the school board a glimpse into the future for our school and every school in Oregon and across the United States with regard to AYP.  It is not a matter of if we will fail to meet AYP; it is only a matter of when.   The winners in this game, as it is currently configured, are the school districts who fail last.  Trust me when I say we will continue to work hard to make sure kids are learning at their maximum individual level and rate.  This approach, continuous progress, has manifested itself in Corbett being one of the districts still making AYP.  However, we do need to question what it will mean to us when we do not make AYP.

What Should We Do WHEN We Do Not Make AYP?

When we do not make AYP should we question the strategy that has made Corbett one of the few districts left standing through the years?  Should we question a strategy that has produced one of the highest graduation rates around?   I think not.

The problem is that AYP is built to make you fail.  By definition, sub groups within the formula will doom every district to fail even if the general population by some miracle could pass every test at every grade level for every student.  A large percentage (most) Special Education (SPED) students (aka students with disabilities) by definition are “below grade level”.  How much sense does it make to have a component of AYP that says 70%, or 80%, or 90% or 100% of your SPED students must be at grade level, when to be labeled a SPED student you must be performing below grade level?  The same goes for English Language Learners being required to perform at grade level in speaking English.  If by definition you have to be below grade level to be an English Language Learner how much sense does it make to require 70%, 80%, 90%, or 100% of these students to perform at grade level in English?

The real problem is that an “IDEAL” (a good ideal mind you) has been  “politicked” into a policy that is unattainable.  While I am all for the ideal of making sure we work hard to maximize every child’s education, I am far less interested in investing in the politics of the mess.  Politics, whose hidden goal it appears to me, may be to label public schools as failures.

Into this political mess steps the Oregon Department of Education (ODE).  This year marks the 13th year in a row where it is practically impossible to generate any trended year to year data from state testing as the ODE has changed the tests again.  Each year the ODE tinkers with what each standard means and what the passing rates are for those standards.  They raise the standards, they lower them, they change them……effectively making it very difficult to authentically assess how schools have done over time.  This does not stop many schools from chasing the ever changing ever moving tail of grade level standards established by the ODE.  Thankfully, we do not.  Instead we focus on the thing that is important: Students.   Substitute grade level standards with individual student standards and you have described Corbett.  Professionals, called teachers, hold each student to a standard, a standard that is appropriate for that student.  Rather than teach to the whole (some grade level standard) teachers direct their instruction at the individual.  Instead of focusing on the politicized grade level standard, teachers focus on what each student really needs. This does not imply that we don’t expect students to make progress.  In fact we demand that they make progress even if they are performing above a particular grade level standard. This approach seems to work, as evidenced by our graduation rates and numerous other measures, including making AYP in an environment where most schools simply are not able to make AYP.

Why Don’t Other Schools Make AYP?

Why are other schools not able to make AYP?  First, and I cannot stress this enough, they fail because the AYP measure is flawed. It is not fair. It is built to make schools, all schools, fail.  It is a political tool run amuck.  It is a political tool that will cause our school to “fail” as well. Second, I believe that a flaw in their approach is that some other schools chase the tail of grade level standards. They jump a different direction every time ODE changes what they will assess, and they pay more attention to the standards than they do to the children.  They focus on the wrong thing.

What Does The Future Hold?

There may be some chance that we avoid the specter (a political specter) of not making AYP thanks to a request the ODE has put into the feds to get a waiver for the entire state while they try out a new common core standards model they want to launch in a couple years.   That jury is out.  In the mean time I suggest that we keep doing what we are doing…we trust professional teachers to make judgments about what each student needs, we trust our teachers to do their jobs.   Politicians can do their jobs, but let’s not let the job of politicians interfere with the jobs our teachers are doing.

Randy Trani