Prince William County and Manassas schools had trouble meeting Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goals last school year, but is it poor education or extremely high standards that are responsible?

In Prince William, 28 out of 82 schools didn’t meet AYP in 2009-10, up four from the 2008-09 school year. The situation was even worse in Manassas where seven out of eight schools failed.

Of course, if you take Virginia as a whole, none of this seems surprising, and it becomes difficult to blame the problem on any one particular district. There are 132 school divisions in Virginia – 12 made AYP.

AYP testing is part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which seeks to measure the progress and performance of the nation’s students. Since it was enacted in 2002, there has been grumbling from many people. Some teachers feel that the necessity of meeting mandated benchmarks forces them to teach to the tests which determine AYP, rather than simply concentrating on giving their students a well-rounded education.

Part of the problem with meeting AYP last year relates to new graduation and disability standards. For the first time, about 80 percent of all students must get an advanced or standard diploma in four years. Also, standards for disabled students were raised this year. These two factors alone led to 128 schools and 24 schools divisions in Virginia missing AYP. The Prince William County school division missed AYP only because it failed to meet the new disability standards.

To read more about this go to Inside Nova.

One question that arises from these scores is who’s to blame? Are schools underperforming, or are requirements simply too steep?

It’s a hard question to answer.  On the one hand, can anyone be blamed for wanting the highest education standards for students? But on the other hand, not meeting AYP can have serious consequences for schools.

Title I schools – schools receiving federal assistance because of their large low-income student populations – face the toughest consequences.  If they don’t make AYP two years in a row, these schools are labeled as being in “improvement,” a fact schools then have to report to parents. Also, schools in “improvement” must give parents the choice of sending their children to better performing schools.

If a Title I school misses AYP for three years, then the previous requirements remain and schools must also give students Supplemental Education Services.

After four years of missing AYP, in addition to the previous penalties, schools must choose one of the following options: changing some of their staff, coming up with a new curriculum, lessening management’s authority, hiring outside experts to advise them, reorganizing the school internally, or making the school year or day longer.

After five years, planning for school restructuring begins. After six years, those plans are put into effect.

The information about these consequences were found here.

Three Title I elementary schools in Prince William County – Bel Air, River Oaks and Neabsco – missed AYP for the second year in a row, meaning they will have to offer students the choice of transferring.

According to this article from The Virginian-Pilot, the consequences for non-Title I schools are less severe because they don’t receive the same federal funding, but school divisions still must take steps toward improvement if non-Title I schools miss AYP.

While perhaps necessary, the consequences of not making AYP can be costly and may severely change the lives of students and teachers. Of course, in some cases, that is desirable, but if failures result from unrealistic requirements, then the consequences may be too severe.

In the end, the question of whether or not requirements are too onerous might be better left to experts. But parents would do well to educate themselves as to what AYP requirements are, why they are what they are and what the consequences could be to their child if the school they attend does not make Adequate Yearly Progress.