Adequate yearly progress has been the assessment measurement for schools and school districts in Pennsylvania since the enactment of the federal No Child Left Behind Law in January 2001.
But this standard, known as AYP, will disappear if an application for a waiver submitted by the state Department of Education to the U.S. Department of Education is granted.
No Child Left Behind requires 100 percent of students test proficient in reading and math by 2014 -- a goal that virtually every education official recognizes as impossible. In Pennsylvania, the number of districts making adequate progress fell from 94 percent in 2011 to 60.9 percent in 2012 as the targets increased.
While Congress has tried in recent years to come up with a reauthorization of the act that would eliminate that mandate, no bill has been passed. As result, President Barack Obama in September 2011 began permitting states to file for waivers from meeting the act if they came up with an alternative assessment system that met guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Education.
As of January, the most recent update given by the U.S. Department of Education, 35 states had waiver applications approved and nine states along with Puerto Rico and the Bureau of Indian Education had applications pending.
Pennsylvania filed its waiver application Feb. 28. Pennsylvania wants to use a newly devised Pennsylvania School Performance Profile as the basis for the scoring system that would be used to assess public schools.
Tim Eller, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said Education Secretary Ron Tomalis submitted the application in the absence of the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind.
"This is an iterative process that will take place over the next few months. The department believes that this proposal includes a fair representation of academic progress in Pennsylvania's schools," Mr. Eller wrote in a email.
Under the previous evaluation system, adequate progress was met if students hit state-set targets for proficiency levels on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests in reading and math and for graduation, attendance and test participation. Targets were set for all students and for subgroups, which included white, black, economically disadvantaged and special education.
Subgroups were composed of 40 or more students within the same designation.
The school performance proposal included in the waiver application would be based on a 100-point scale and would include four Annual Measurable Objectives.
The first objective is a required 95 percent participation rate on tests, which would continue to be the PSSA exams for students in grades 3-8 and end-of-course Keystone exams for Algebra I, biology and literature, which this year for the first time are replacing the 11th-grade PSSAs. This is the same participation rate as required to make AYP.
Second is a graduation rate of 85 percent or higher at either four, five or six years from when a ninth-grade class starts, or a rate that has improved over the previous year. In 2012, the required graduation rate was 85 percent over four years or a 10 percent reduction of the difference between the previous year's graduation rate and 85 percent.
The third and fourth objectives involve closing the achievement gap of two groups of students -- all students and historically underachieving students -- by 50 percent within six years. The gap would be computed by taking 2012-13 test scores and comparing them with 100 percent proficiency.
Currently, schools are held accountable for meeting targets for various subgroups, which can include improvement, but their goals are not tied to narrowing a particular gap.
The waiver calls for the number of students that compose a subgroup to be lowered from 40 to 11 and for a combination of the various populations to make up a subgroup rather than the current separate subgroups. For instance, a subgroup could consist of five special education, three English language learners and three economically disadvantaged students.
Academic achievement -- including students' performance on PSSA and Keystone exams, grade 3 reading proficiency, scores on standards-based industry tests and SAT and ACT exams -- would account for 40 percent of the profile as would academic growth, which refers to the progress of students from year to year. Closing of the achievement gap for all students and historically underperforming students would count for 5 percent each, and graduation rate would count for 10 percent.
Extra credit for the profile can be earned for the percentage of students who score advanced on PSSAs, score a 3 or higher on Advanced Placement exams or advanced on industry standard exams such as those for professional trades.
The school performance profiles would be developed by fall, according to the waiver application.
Based on the scores of the school performance profiles, schools would receive one of the four federally required designations: Reward/High Achievement, Reward/High Progress, Focus, and Priority.
A Reward/High Achievement school is one with a school performance profile score of 95 or more and meets graduation rates, attendance rates and test participation rates, or has a score of 90 or above and meets all four AMOs.
A Reward/High Progress school is one with a profile score between 70-89.9 and has met all four measurable objectives.
A Focus school is one with a profile score of between 60-69.9, a graduation rate below 60 percent, test participation rate below 95 percent or a school that falls in the lowest 5 to 10 percent of Title I schools, based on the school profile. Title I schools have a large proportion of low-income students.
A Priority school has a profile score below 60 or is in the lowest 5 percent of Title I schools, based on the school profile.
Focus and Priority schools will be required to perform needs assessments and come up with plans for improvement. These schools also can receive technical assistance from their districts, intermediate units and the state Department of Education.
Reward schools get a Keystone Award, can compete for certain grant money when it's available and may be asked to present best practices or work with the state Department of Education on the development of future strategies and policies.
So far, there is little in the way of comment from education organizations on the proposed assessment method.
The Pennsylvania School Boards Association has issued a brief summary of the waiver request but has not yet developed a position on it.
Wythe Keever, spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest teacher union, said his organization first viewed the application this week and "we're still trying to figure out what it means."
Mary Niederberger: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1590.