Ken Hare In Depth: AYP going away? - WSFA.com: News Weather and Sports for Montgomery, AL.

Ken Hare In Depth: AYP going away?

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

Each year for almost a decade, public school educators across Alabama have braced themselves for the release of Adequate Yearly Progress reports for their schools and school systems. But AYP may be going away for good in Alabama, to be replaced by a new assessment program currently dubbed Plan 2020.

Caroline Novak, president of the A Plus Education Partnership, cannot hide her enthusiasm for the proposed changes.

"I couldn't be happier with Plan 2020," she said Thursday. "It incorporates everything we believe is necessary for a comprehensive, well-developed statewide effort to improve educational opportunities and outcomes."

That high praise comes from a group that has been a key player in almost every successful educational reform effort in Alabama in recent years, including the highly successful Alabama Reading Initiative.

And A Plus is not sitting on the sidelines in the development of Plan 2020. Novak said the nonprofit research organization has been allowed to serve on the task force that is developing the plan.

AYP is a mandate of the federal No Child Left Behind program required by Congress. It consists of steadily increasing requirements for student achievement in reading and math, to the point that all students would be required to be proficient in both by 2014.

But many educators feel that the requirement for every student to be proficient is unrealistic. It has resulted in some schools failing to meet AYP standards because a handful of students did not score well enough on tests, sometimes by only a point or two.

AYP results released earlier this month showed almost  75 percent of the state's schools meeting 100 percent of their goals in the 2011-12 school year. That was a slight increase from the prior year.  Another 13 percent of schools met at least 90 percent of goals. But many schools still failed, and several systems, including Montgomery Public Schools, did not make its AYP goals.

As part of the move away from AYP, Alabama is being allowed to freeze its AYP goals at last year's levels. And the state is applying to the federal government for a waiver to substitute its own assessment program for AYP -- something for which 33 states already have been approved.

Novak said that NCLB "did a very good job of bringing attention to the horrific achievement gaps in America" between low-income children and other children, between minority and non-minority children and between special education students and other students.

But the AYP approach focused on just two areas -- reading and math -- and did not do enough to ensure a high level of achievement in other areas.

Plan 2020 would take a much more comprehensive approach to measuring student achievement, she said, with a focus on ensuring that students are prepared for either college or the workplace when they graduate.

Dr. Tommy Bice, Alabama's state superintendent of education, said recently that the changes are designed " to take the focus off the test in the spring so teachers are focused on teaching and learning throughout the year."

Under Plan 2020, students should see a more individualized approach to ensuring they achieve, with measurements designed to allow their teachers to identify their shortcomings early on so that they can be remedied.

Schools would face a much wider array of standards, including such things as college and career readiness, progress toward closing achievement gaps, graduation rates, attendance, teacher and staff effectiveness, and multiple measures of student performance.

The move toward high achievement standards and college and career readiness is especially important. A recent study by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce -- A Decade Behind: Breaking Out of the Low Skill Trap in the Southern Economy -- raises concerns over low student achievement in several Southern states, including Alabama, contributing to a shortage of jobs requiring higher levels of education. That in turn prompts a migration of qualified graduates out of Alabama.

Novak believes the new approach, if ultimately approved by federal education officials, would maintain the strengths of NCLB, such as closing the gaps between low-income and other students, while bringing a new emphasis to higher achievement standards for all students.

 "We're moving toward more rigorous and higher level goals," Novak said. "And we're moving toward a more honest target of proficiency" that will focus on students.

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