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The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) frames a common goal for educators: to ensure that no child, regardless of background, is left behind by the nation's education system. NCLB, the 2001 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), strengthened accountability requirements for schools, districts and their states.
This report examines the implementation of ESEA Title I accountability provisions in 2001-02, the first year of the three-year Evaluation of Title I Accountability Systems and School Improvement Efforts (TASSIE), and the final year in which ESEA as it existed prior to NCLB, was still in effect. The data reported here will serve as a baseline against which to track the implementation of NCLB. Subsequent TASSIE reports will focus on the implementation of NCLB in the 2002-03 and 2003-04 school years.
The ESEA, as reauthorized by the Improving America's Schools Act (IASA) of 1994, required states to establish challenging standards, implement assessments that measure students' performance against those standards and hold schools and school systems accountable for the achievement of all students. States were also required to define criteria for measuring adequate yearly progress (AYP) in school performance for Title I schools and districts. Schools and districts that did not make AYP for two consecutive years were identified for improvement. This document focuses on Title I accountability provisions as they were implemented in 2001-02 for schools identified for improvement because of failure to may AYP in previous years. Specifically, it covers:
Title I schools identified as in need of improvement, including how many there were, their characteristics, the process by which they were identified and how states and districts communicated with and about them.
Support and interventions for Title I schools identified as in need of improvement, including the types of support provided, efforts to offer school choice to students in identified schools and the corrective actions taken by districts in schools that did not make progress.
Throughout, the document contrasts IASA with NCLB and comments on the implications of the findings for the implementation of NCLB. Evaluation methods included surveys of districts and Title I schools identified as in need of improvement in those districts, as well as case studies of a set of identified Title I schools in districts in five states.
Title I Schools and Districts in Need of Improvement
Numbers and Characteristics
In 2001-02, approximately 8,078 schools or 21 percent of all Title I schools nationwide had been identified for improvement under Title I based on previous years' assessment results. These identified schools were concentrated in a relatively small proportion (21 percent) of Title I districts.
Schools in the nation's very largest districts were more likely to be identified for improvement, compared with schools in other districts. An estimated 37 percent of schools in very large districts (those with enrollments over 37,740) were identified for improvement, twice the identification rate of 17 percent in small and medium districts.
However, because there are relatively few very large districts and many more small and medium Title I districts in the nation, the largest numbers of schools identified for improvement were located in small and medium districts. Districts with enrollments below 10,449 contained 52 percent of all identified schools, and districts with enrollments under 3,504 contained nearly a third (32 percent) of identified schools. Almost two-thirds of the districts with a school identified for improvement under Title I were small, while very large districts represented just 3 percent of the total number of districts with identified schools.
Districts with identified schools were more likely to be in the highest-poverty category than were Title I districts in general. Forty-four percent of all districts with identified schools were in the highest-poverty category (i.e., districts with poverty rates above 22 percent), compared with 26 percent of all Title I districts.
How States and Districts Defined Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and Identified Schools for Improvement Under Title I
How states and districts defined AYP under Title I of IASA affected the number and types of schools identified for improvement. IASA required states to set targets for school performance. These targets could be absolute or relative, summarized across subjects and aggregated for all students at a school. NCLB, in contrast, contains more specific criteria for AYP, including an end point of all students achieving proficiency by 2013-14 and accountability for the achievement of key subgroups of students. Both IASA and NCLB, however, place final responsibility for the details of AYP definitions in the hands of state and local policymakers.
Under IASA, AYP definitions varied widely from state to state. States assessed AYP in different ways. Thirty-three states relied entirely on relative-growth models where schools made AYP if their assessment scores meet a target based on specific improvement compared with their past performance and often their distance from state performance goals. Twelve more combined some form of relative-growth model with requirements that schools meet an absolute performance target as well (Council of Chief State School Officers 2002). States also differed in the measures they adopted to assess school performance.
Great variation also existed in the identification rates of schools across states. The difference among states in their AYP definitions was one factor, along with the rigor of assessments and the actual performance level of students, that accounted for this variation. For example, in 2000-01, based on previous years' assessment results, six states reported identifying 1 percent or fewer of their Title I schools (Florida and Wyoming identified no schools), 10 states identified between 10 percent and 20 percent of their schools, and three states identified more than 30 percent of their schools (Michigan, Hawaii and Georgia) (U.S. Department of Education 2002).
Under IASA, the majority of states relied primarily on relative-growth models to define AYP, sometimes causing relatively high-performing schools to be identified for improvement while other, lower-performing schools were not identified. Under NCLB, absolute measures of performance are much more important in determining AYP. NCLB requires that states adopt a status model for determining AYP, in which benchmarks are the same for all schools statewide; measures of growth (as provided for under the legislation's "safe harbor" provision) will apply only if schools do not meet these absolute benchmarks. As states comply with this requirement, less overlap in performance may occur between identified and non-identified schools.
The implementation of district identification systems, required under both IASA and NCLB, was proceeding slowly in 2001-02. In spring 2002, two-thirds of districts reported that their state had begun to review the progress of districts under a definition of AYP developed for the districts by the state. Of these districts, 15 percent reported that they were identified for improvement under Title I.
Alignment of Title I Accountability with Accountability Systems for All Schools
IASA called on states to have a singleor "unitary"accountability system in which Title I students are held to the same high standards for achievement as their non-Title I peers. Yet states without statewide assessment systems were allowed to have Title I-only accountability systems. NCLB requires that states use the same accountability system (including assessment instruments and goals for AYP) for all schools, Title I and non-Title I.
In 2001-02, most states did not have unitary accountability systems that applied the same criteria for identification for improvement to both Title I and non-Title I schools.
Communication about Schools Identified for Improvement
Under IASA, states and districts were required to inform schools of their status and to issue individual school profiles. NCLB strengthens the reporting provisions by specifying that states and districts must issue "report cards" with state assessment results and lists of schools identified for improvement. NCLB also requires that data on student subgroups and the Title I improvement status of a school be reported.
Under IASA, there was a lack of clarity about the particulars of how and which schools are identified for improvement. Forty-one percent of principals of schools identified for improvement in 2001-02 reported that they had not been identified or did not know if they had been identified for improvement. Even among principals who agreed with their districts or states that they were identified for improvement, almost a third reported some uncertainty about the criteria they would need to meet to exit improvement status. As AYP definitions become more standard within and across states under NCLB, state education agencies and districts may find it easier to communicate with schools about specific expectations for performance.
In 2001-02, report cards were prepared and actively disseminated in almost all districts. In addition, public reporting of achievement data for student subgroups was relatively common: between one-half and two-thirds of districts that enrolled significant proportions of minority students, limited-English-proficient (LEP) students and students with disabilities reported that data were already being disaggregated for these groups, as well as by gender, in public reporting on schools. (Disaggregation by economically disadvantaged status was slightly less common, being reported by 45 percent of districts that enroll significant numbers of economically disadvantaged students.) State and district reporting often included information on state assessment results (in 97 percent of districts), and comparisons with other schools and districts in the state (in 81 percent of districts). However, reporting on the Title I school improvement status, as is now required under NCLB, was done much less frequently. In 2001-02, 46 percent of districts reported that their state reported this information, about a third reported that the district itself reported it, and about a third reported that schools did.
Support and Interventions for Title I Schools Identified for Improvement
Under both IASA and NCLB, Title I identified schools must develop school plans, are eligible for assistance and face increasingly strong consequences the longer they do not make AYP. NCLB adds a much greater emphasis on parental choice by providing options for parents to move their children to schools not identified as in need of improvement and to choose supplemental educational services for their children. NCLB also provides more specific guidance regarding schools in corrective action and those subject to restructuring, requiring districts to implement one of the steps outlined in the legislation.
In 2001-02, districts were actively seeking to support schools identified for improvement, most commonly through approaches such as school planning, use of student achievement data to plan and monitor progress and professional development for teachers.
- Ninety-five percent of districts with low-performing schools assigned staff to work with schools to analyze student achievement data to identify the specific academic problems that caused the school to be identified.
- Eighty-four percent assigned staff to work with schools to identify research-based improvement strategies.
- Half of districts with low-performing schools reported assisting these schools by placing a "major focus" on increasing the quality and quantity of professional development.
- Seventy percent of these districts reported assigning staff to work with schools to analyze and revise the school's budget so that school resources were effectively allocated for the activities that were most likely to increase student performance.
- Similarly, 69 percent of districts with low-performing schools reported assigning staff to work with schools to review staffing plans.
- Almost 65 percent of districts with low-performing schools required some or all of their schools to adopt new reading and language arts curricula in the last three years; more than 50 percent required the adoption of new math curricula.
However, few identified schools were receiving resource-intensive support, such as coaches or distinguished educators. Fewer than half of all identified schools reported receiving assistance from school support teams or additional staff assigned to provide professional development or coach the principal. Overall, larger districts with low-performing schools were more likely than smaller districts to report the provision of resource-intensive support, including school support teams, special grants, full-time staff developers and mentors for principals. Similarly, larger districts were more likely than smaller districts to provide more resource-intensive types of support for curriculum alignment. Most districts, regardless of size, do appear to have the capacity to pursue less-resource-intensive strategies, such as helping schools develop school plans, providing support for professional development and resource reallocation or requiring schools to adopt new curricula.
District policy regarding support and assistance did not always distinguish between schools identified for improvement under Title I and other low-performing schoolsor even all schools.
Nationwide, 41 percent of all Title I districts (an estimated 4,521) reported offering some sort of public school choice option during the 2001-02 school year. For Title I under IASA, Congress added requirements in 1999 and 2000 that school choice be offered to students in certain Title I schools. A little more than half (54 percent) of districts (approximately 1,217) with identified Title I schools offered public school choice during the 2001-02 school year. However, these choice options did not necessarily meet the criteria now specified under NCLB that parents be notified of choice options before the start of the school year and that transferring students be provided with transportation to nonidentified schools.
Under IASA, few districts provided parents of students in identified schools with the choice to transfer to alternative public schools with transportation provided in 2001-02. Only 7 percent of all Title I districts and 12 percent of districts with schools identified for improvement offered transfers to an alternate public school within the district, with transportation provided.
In making choice options available to parents, districts with identified Title I schools often faced structural challenges: lack of space in alternate schools, lack of transportation to alternate schools and the lack of alternate schools within the district. The new federal requirements for Title I choice under NCLB, unlike the earlier IASA policies, do not exempt districts facing these obstacles from the requirement to offer choice.
Corrective Actions and School Restructuring
Districts, allowed to define corrective actions locally under IASA, were much more likely to take actions with identified schools that might be characterized as assistance rather than as sanctions in 2001-02. Districts were required to take corrective actions with schools during their third year in improvement status. Districts most frequently took three corrective actions: requiring the implementation of a new research-based curriculum (49 percent), extending the school day or year (39 percent) and appointing an outside expert to advise the school (32 percent). These are among the corrective actions in NCLB that districts must select from for schools that continue to not make AYP. Larger districts were more likely than smaller districts to report that corrective-action status schools receive greater monitoring and oversight, more intensive support from technical assistance providers and larger school improvement grants than other schools identified for improvement.
Overall, only 2 percent of districts with identified schools imposed any one action associated with restructuring under NCLB, and fewer than 5 percent of districts that were required to take corrective actions with identified Title I schools did so. In both cases, these more severe actions were taken only in districts where the accountability system had been in place at least three years.
Under IASA, districts were not required to take corrective actions if their states did not yet have an assessment system approved under Title I, and only 21 states had these final assessment systems in place as of October 2002. Unlike IASA, NCLB requires districts to impose corrective actions no matter what the Title I approval status of their state's assessment and accountability systems. Moreover, NCLB additionally requires that districts begin to plan for "restructuring" actions (e.g., replacing the principal and staff) in schools that do not make AYP for three years after being identified for improvement. As a result, these stronger consequences may occur more commonly under NCLB.
Findings from the first year (2001-02) of the Evaluation of Title I Accountability Systems and School Improvement Efforts (TASSIE) suggest that states, districts, and schools are well positioned to meet many of the challenges of implementing rigorous accountability systems for NCLB but will need to make substantial changes to meet certain provisions of the law. Specifically, in terms of progress, the evaluation found:
- Nearly all states and districts had standards that applied to all students, had or were developing assessment systems aligned with those standards and had processes in place for identifying low-performing schools.
- Most states and districts had mechanismssuch as school report cardsfor informing parents and the public about the achievement of students in individual schools.
- In most places, publicly reported data were already being disaggregated by student subpopulations, although not by all subgroups required under NCLB.
- Most districts were actively seeking to support schools identified for improvement, especially through school planning, the use of assessment data for decision-making, and teacher professional development.
- Many states and districts already were providing some school choice options to parents, often through districtwide open enrollment policies.
At the same time, in other areas, states and districts have a long way to go to meet both the letter and the spirit of NCLB. For instance, in 2001-02:
- Many states continued to operate accountability systems that applied different standards to Title I schools.
- The criteria used to identify schools for improvement under Title I varied widely from state to state, and some states relied heavily on measures of growth in student achievement to assess school performance.
- Few states had fully implemented practices for identifying low-performing districts under Title I.
- School staffs in particular were often confused about the specifics of the identification process and of how and whether their school was identified for improvement.
- Few schools were receiving resource-intensive support, such as coaches or distinguished educators.
- Many district efforts to support low-performing schools made little distinction between schools identified under Title I and other low-performing schools.
- Most districts did not have experience implementing the corrective action strategies for schools outlined in NCLB.
- State and district efforts to provide parental choice often would not meet the requirements in NCLB.
The Evaluation of Title I Accountability Systems and School Improvement Efforts (TASSIE) will continue to track state, district and school implementation of the Title I accountability requirements in the 2002-03 and 2003-04 school years. Findings reported here profile the status of implementation just prior to NCLB compared to the expectations NCLB sets for Title I accountability. Future reports will further describe the changes in state, district and school practice that occur under NCLB.