A note about changes to California's testing and accountability systems
NCLB has now been in place for more than a decade and is due for reauthorization. As the sharp increase in federal accountability requirements has resulted in more and more schools failing to meet their targets, several states have applied to the U.S. Department of Education for waivers from certain requirements of NCLB.
In the meantime, California’s testing and accountability systems are changing significantly as a result of recent legislation and the state’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards. In March 2014, for federal accountability, the U.S. Department of Education approved a waiver to allow California to not make new Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) determinations for elementary and middle schools.
Instead, elementary and middle schools will receive the same AYP determinations as in 2013. This means that no new schools will enter or exit Program Improvement (PI) and the current PI schools will not advance a year in their PI status. This waiver did not affect high schools. High schools will continue to receive AYP determinations because those determinations are not based on STAR results, but instead on California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) results and graduation rates. However, AYP reports through the 2012-13 school year are unaffected by these changes.
For more information, see Changes to California's K-12 Education System.
Federal support for the education of disadvantaged students greatly expanded in 1965 with the passage the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The Act has been reauthorized ( reviewed and revised) several times, most recently in 2002 when it was also renamed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).
In 1999, California passed the Public Schools Accountability Act (PSAA) as the first step in developing a comprehensive system to hold students, schools, and districts accountable for improving student performance. The program now includes a student testing system (STAR) and a high school exit exam (CAHSEE). These assessments are both aligned with academic content standards, and with an Academic Performance Index (API) for measuring progress. These comprehensive accountability standards put California in a good position to meet the provisions of the 2001 federal law known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). They are the components the state uses for measuring adequate yearly progress (AYP).
In fall 2004, the California Department of Education began issuing an “Academic Progress Report” (APR) that combines state and federal reporting requirements into a single document.
Changes made that year included significant new regulations and complex prescriptions for school improvement that are a condition of federal funding. The goal of NCLB: 100% of students will test proficient in English/language arts (ELA) and mathematics by 2013-14.
The NCLB law has three primary elements:
- tests in ELA and math, aligned with academic content standards
- annual reports about students' progress toward proficiency
- increasingly serious consequences for schools and districts that
repeatedly fail to make “adequate yearly progress.”
Each state has developed its own specific plans for implementation, with the federal government retaining approval rights. Some states had to start from scratch, but California's task was primarily to make adjustments (some substantial) to its existing testing and reporting system.
The California accountability plan retains the state's Academic Performance Index (API) and defines "adequate yearly progress" for NCLB purposes. The federal government approved the plan in June 2003, and in August of 2003 the State Board of Education (SBE) unveiled its expanded accountability process.
California's choices for test results
Students in grades 2-8 and 10 provide the testing data for NCLB. Most students take the California Standards Tests in English/language arts and math (based on academic content standards adopted by the SBE) in the spring. Students with severe disabilities may take the California Alternate Performance Assessment (CAPA) and, as of 2008, students in grades 3-5 with milder disabilities may take the California Modified Assessment (CMA). Their results are reported according to five proficiency levels that range from “far below basic” to “proficient” and “advanced.”
Tenth graders' scores on the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) are also a factor in determining whether high schools make adequate yearly progress under NCLB. The score required to be "proficient" on the CAHSEE is higher than the score required to pass the test.
The test scores are also used to compute the school and district APIs, which are an additional indicator of performance for NCLB.
The structure for measuring yearly progress
The federal law requires schools, districts, and the state as a whole to demonstrate Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in English/language arts and math. To do this, student test results are matched to Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs) based on proficiency levels. That is, the state sets annual targets for how many students must test proficient or above in order to make AYP.
For the 2012-13 testing cycle, the AMO targets are:
|Elementary schools, middle schools, and elementary districts||89.2% English/language arts||89.5% math|
|High schools and high school districts (grades 9-12 or 7-12)||88.9% English/language arts||88.7% math|
|Unified districts||89.0% English/language arts||89.1% math|
These targets began to increase rapidly in 2007-08 and will continue to increase yearly by about 11 percentage points until they reach 100% in 2013-14. This schedule of AMO increases was established with the anticipation that schools and districts would experience greater academic gains in the later years after they had time to adjust to issues such as alignment of instruction with state content standards, which had been adopted in the late 1990s.
Each school and district must meet the AMOs in order to make AYP. Further, NCLB asks for that result from all of the numerically significant subgroups—up to eight ethnic groups (including "two or more races") and the socioeconomically disadvantaged students (which the state already included in its accountability system) plus English learners and students with disabilities (which it hadn't until 2006). If any one of these subgroups doesn't meet both the English and math AMOs, the school or district fails to make AYP.
Under certain conditions, various SBE-adopted alternative methods for meeting AMO proficiency levels may be applied to districts, schools, and student subgroups.
NCLB also requires that 95% of all students—and 95% of each significant subgroup—participate in each test. Again, a lower participation rate for just one subgroup prevents the school or district from making AYP. "Significant" is defined as at least 100 pupils or at least 50 students who comprise 15% or more of the total enrollment.
It is an NCLB requirement that each state use an “additional” indicator for AYP. California uses the API as the additional indicator for all schools and school districts; however NCLB requirements for progress on the API are different from the state's API requirements. In 2012, to make progress under NCLB, a school or district API score must be at least 740 (or one point more than the Base API if the Base API score already is 800 or above).
NCLB also requires that a state use graduation rates as an additional indicator for each school or district with grade twelve students. According to AYP requirements, schools and districts must have a 90 percent graduation rate (defined as the number of graduates divided by the graduates plus dropouts over the previous four years) by the 2019 AYP. The annual criteria for meeting this graduation rate requirement are:
- High school graduation rates must be at least 90.0%; or
- The school or district must meet its fixed growth target rate. A fixed growth four-year cohort graduation schedule was established in 2011. The fixed growth target rate for each school (or district) is calculated as the difference between the baseline graduation rate (i.e., 2011 AYP graduation rate) and the 90 percent goal divided by the number of years remaining before the 2019 AYP (i.e., eight years); or
- The school or district must meet a variable growth target rate. A variable growth target rate is the difference between the school's or district's current year graduation rate and the 90 percent goal divided by the number of years remaining before the 2019 AYP. The variable growth target rate will be recalculated annually. The 2013 AYP variable rate is calculated using the 2010-11 four-year cohort graduation rate.
Starting with the 2012 AYP, all numerically significant student subgroups also must meet the above graduation rate requirement in order for the school or the district to make the NCLB graduation rate target.
The AYP graduation rate requirements apply only to schools with grade 12 data—schools that do not have students in grade 12 are exempt from graduation rate requirements. Additionally, the graduation rate requirements apply only to schools and school districts with 50 or more students in both the prior and current years’ graduation rate calculation denominator.
Statewide results, 2003-2013
The first set of AYP results in August 2003 showed that the state as a whole met all criteria for AYP. California again met all the AYP criteria in 2004 according to the results released that year.
However, by 2005 the results showed that California as a whole did not make AYP. English Learners missed the ELA target, and students with disabilities missed both ELA and mathematics targets. Based on targets that had risen substantially that year, elementary districts making AYP dropped from 69% to 66% and unified districts from 40% to 38%, but high school districts rose from 53% to 69%. The percentage of elementary schools went from 75% to 60% and middle schools from 44% to 39%, while high schools rose from 55% to 56%.
The August 2006 release showed that 66% of all schools met AYP requirements, an increase of 3 percentage points. Again, the high school percentage declined slightly, while elementary schools continued to grow, even in Title I schools where 65% made AYP.
The results in 2007 are similar: growth in elementary schools but declines in middle and high schools, for the same statewide results of 66% of all schools making AYP.
In 2008, 52% of all schools made AYP, likely a reflection of increased AMOs that year. Elementary, middle, and high schools declined in the number of schools making AYP. That same year, 41% of LEAs made AYP as opposed to 54% one year earlier.
One percentage point fewer schools made AYP in 2009, with 51% of all schools making AYP. Fewer LEAs (38%) made AYP than the year before. The number of elementary schools making AYP increased, but the number of middle and high schools making AYP decreased.
In 2010, faced with an 11 percentage point increase in the number of students expected to score proficient or above on state assessments, fewer elementary and middle schools made AYP than in 2009. Forty percent of elementary schools made AYP in 2010 compared with 61% in 2009 and 26% of middle schools made AYP compared with 27% in 2009. (The state did not release similar AYP results for high schools after statewide graduation data became available.)
In 2011, again facing an 11 percentage point increase in AYP targets, fewer schools made the AYP than in 2010. Among elementary schools 35% (compared with 40% the previous year) made AYP and only 18% of middle schools (compared with 26% in 2010) made AYP. The number of high schools making AYP dropped by one percentage point (from 42% in 2010 to 41% in 2011).
In 2012, the percentage of all schools making AYP targets dropped significantly, from 35% in 2011 to 26% in 2012. Among elementary schools, 27% made AYP in 2012, compared with 36% in 2011. Among middle schools, 17% (vs. 18% in 2012) made AYP in 2012. And among high schools 27% made AYP in 2012 (down from 42% in 2011).
In 2013, with the target for students achieving at the the proficient level or above jumping to 89%, the number of elementary schools making AYP dropped from 27% in 2012 to 10% in 2013; middle schools dropped from 18% making AYP in 2012 to 6% in 2013; and high schools making AYP decreased from 28% in 2012 to 27% in 2013.
The CDE's website (http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/ac/ay) has details about the AYP results. These include enrollment (by subgroup) on the first day of testing, the number of students tested, participation rates, the number of valid scores, and the number and percent of students testing proficient or above. Links take you to explanatory notes as well as school-by-school results.
Program Improvement for schools
A major portion of federal funding for K-12 education in Title I of ESEA is for students from low-income families. Schools receiving these funds are known as Title I schools. Their challenges are particularly tough and the consequences for not making AYP are more serious. Title I elementary schools making AYP dropped from 20% in 2012 to 8% in 2013. Middle schools receiving Title I funds dropped from 15% in 2012 to 4% making AYP in 2013. However the number of high schools receiving Title I funds that made AYP grew slightly from 23% in 2012 to 24% in 2013.
According to NCLB, a school receiving Title I funds is placed in “Program Improvement” (PI) if the school or any of its numerically significant subgroups fails to make AYP for two consecutive years based on the same factor (e.g., the English/language arts AMO, the math AMO, or the participation rate). Additionally, the school goes into PI if it does not meet the API indicator for two consecutive years or, if it is a high school, fails to meet the graduation rate indicator for two consecutive years. A school gets out of PI if it makes AYP for two years in a row.
In August 2003, 1,200 schools were in or entered Program Improvement, according to the CDE. By September 2006, 639 schools moved into PI and 104 exited. In 2013, 741 schools were newly identified for PI and 12 exited after making AYP for two consecutive years. This means 4,996 schools, 80% of California's 6,206 Title I schools, are in some stage of needing improvement.
NCLB lists a series of increasingly serious interventions for schools that remain in Program Improvement. These begin with revising a plan for the school and giving parents the option to transfer their students to schools that are not in PI, with the district providing transportation. The second year adds providing professional development and offering tutoring to low-income students. If the school hasn't made AYP in four years, the outcome could be significant restructuring or takeover in the fifth year.
In 2013, 413 schools advanced to Year 5 of Program Improvement. While NCLB does not allow for a school PI designation beyond Year 5, 1,596 of the 2,009 schools in Year 5 of PI have been identified for PI for at least six years.
Note: More than one-third of California's schools did not receive Title I funds in 2011. They are not subject to Program Improvement regardless of their AYP status.
Program Improvement for school districts
According to NCLB, districts that receive Title I funds (as most do) are accountable for student achievement on the same basic approach as schools, using subgroup performance and participation data.
The first year districts and county offices of education were eligible to go into Program Improvement (PI) was 2004-05. They are identified for PI status if they miss AYP in the same content area or on the same additional indicator for two consecutive years. In order to exit PI status, a district must make AYP for two years in a row. Based on 2013 AYP, 88 new districts entered PI and one exited PI status, for a total of 566 districts in PI (61% of the 922 districts that received Title I funds). Although NCLB does not allow for a district PI designation beyond three years, 335 of the 419 districts in year 3 of PI have been identified as being in PI for at least four years.
If a district does not improve after two years in Program Improvement, it faces serious sanctions in the third year. These could include a new curriculum, replacing staff, public supervision of some schools, replacing the superintendent and school board with a trustee or, at the most extreme, restructuring or abolishing the district.
An evolving system
In a state as complex as California, melding the existing accountability structure with a system to meet NCLB requirements for funding has been complicated. Initial results turned up anomalies and circumstances that required refinements. For example, exceptions now apply for up to 1% of students with the most serious cognitive disabilities, students who move to another school during the year, and schools with fewer than 100 test-takers, among others.
NCLB has now been in place for more than a decade and is due for reauthorization. AYP targets have risen steeply each year until 2013-14, when all schools and districts are expected to meet the ultimate targets (100% in English/language arts and math, and 800 on the API). As more and more schools fail to meet their targets, several states have applied to the U.S. Department of Education for waivers from certain requirements of NCLB.
Although California applied for a waiver in June 2012, it was denied. However a group of school districts, known as CORE, did receive waivers exempting them from the accountability penalties of NCLB in 2014. However these districts still received a 2013 AYP report from the California Department of Education.
In the meantime, California’s testing and accountability systems are changing significantly as a result of recent legislation and the state’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards.
In March 2014, for federal accountability, the U.S. Department of Education approved a separate testing waiver to allow California to not make new Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) determinations for elementary and middle schools. Instead, elementary and middle schools will receive the same AYP determinations as in 2013. This means that no new schools will enter or exit Program Improvement (PI) and the current PI schools will not advance a year in their PI status. This waiver did not affect high schools. High schools will continue to receive AYP determinations because those determinations are not based on STAR results, but instead on California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) results and graduation rates.