The federal government created the AYP designation to help the public decide whether local schools are adequately educating students in math and English/language arts. The goal set by Congress is for every student in grades three through eight to consistently earn "proficient" or "advanced" on standardized tests by 2013-14.
Each state has the leeway to set the "proficient" standard. In South Carolina, scores from the Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test (PACT) are used to determine how students are doing. Its "proficient" standard is higher than most states. South Carolina's proficiency standards rank among the nation's toughest, according to several independent reviews.
"A higher percentage of schools in neighboring states may meet every requirement, but they are using a different yardstick by which to measure," a press release from the Chesterfield County School District states.
Under the national legislation, No Child Left Behind, students are divided among sub-groups, such as students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, ethnic minority, disabled or limited English proficient students. A school can have up to 29 sub-groups.
To meet the AYP requirement, each of these target groups must have at least 17.6 percent scoring at or above the proficient level in English/language arts and 15.5 percent scoring at or above the proficient level in mathematics. In South Carolina, schools have between 17 and 21 sub-groups who must score proficient; in Chesterfield County, most schools have 21 sub-groups.
The federal standard is all or nothing: if one sub-group misses meeting AYP, then the whole school fails to meet AYP.
"An example that concerns many educators and administrators is a school like Edwards Elementary, a South Carolina Blue Ribbon School nominee, has made great progress on student achievement but failed to meet one sub-group category. Therefore, that kept them from meeting all requirements," Dr. H. Kenneth Dinkins, Chesterfield County's superintendent, said.
Other performance measures for the federal standard include high school graduation rates, attendance for elementary schools and the percent of students tested. Attendance scores lump excused and unexcused absences together.
Dinkins also noted that while no school in Chesterfield County met AYP, many in the district came close to meeting the rigorous standards. "Our teachers in Chesterfield County schools have been working extremely hard and have made tremendous progress, and I am proud to say our efforts are helping us work toward meeting all the requirements of the new federal law."
PACT is for third- through eighth-graders. The high school AYP report will be released later this month.