The impact of the pressures to make adequate yearly progress on teachers in a Midwest urban school district: a qualitative analysis.

AuthorHunt, John W.

Introduction

The Urban Education Research Team at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville has been studying the impact of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) since early 2006. This research has been largely supported by a grant from the Institute for Urban Research at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. The general research agenda of this team has been to focus specifically upon the academic and the job satisfaction implications of the failure of identified schools to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) on both the teachers and administrators in those schools. The preliminary qualitative survey responses of teachers in four pilot schools are analyzed in this study with an eye toward addressing the issues of student academic achievement and educator job satisfaction. These four schools: two elementary schools; a middle school; and a high school, are located in the metro-East area of Illinois, near St Louis, Missouri. The middle school and senior high school included in the current study have not made AYP for four consecutive years. The four schools are located in the same school district, which educates nearly 4,400 students. The district has a large minority population and a very significant low-income count. For example, the percentage of African-American students in the pilot district is 87.9%, compared with a statewide average of 19.9%. Conversely, the percentage of White students is 11%, as opposed to an Illinois average of 55.7%. The percentage of low-income students is 83.1%, compared with a statewide average of 40%. These figures are taken from the 2006 Illinois School Report Card.

Background

The No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush on January 8, 2002. While this legislation contains many provisions with serious implications for the nation's public schools, one of the best known requirements of the law is that 100 % of all public school students must make AYP in their academic studies by the year 2014. Student performance is measured on a school-by-school basis, and if an insufficient percentage of students fail to make adequate progress, then the school fails to make AYP. It is also possible for entire school districts to fail to make AYP.

One of the unusual aspects of this federal act is that each state has been given the authority to develop its own assessment standards and instruments to determine whether students are making AYP. Thus, it is possible, and quite likely, that the hurdles that students must clear in order to make AYP will vary from state-to-state. The actual instruments used to test students also differ among the states. The current subgroups under NCLB are students from racial/ethnic groups (White, Black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian-Pacific Islander, and multiethnic), economically disadvantaged students (free and reduced lunch), students with disabilities, limited English proficient (L.E.P.) students, and male and female.

While failure to make AYP under NCLB has already become an issue in all types of school districts throughout the nation, this effect has been felt the earliest and perhaps the most strongly in many of the nation's urban schools. Urban schools tend to educate a disparate number of the nation's ethnic minorities, economically disadvantaged students, and students with disabilities. At the same time, these same schools are often those without the level of resources needed in order to address the academic issues brought to light under NCLB. Students, teachers, and administrators alike suffer morale problems in lower-performing schools. One failure leads to another, and soon, those in the school are caught in a downward spiral of emotions. Nichols (2005) addresses this phenomenon by stating:

So, once a school has been labeled failing, the children of that school belong to a failure. Leaving that school may not be a real option for many of the children, so they are stuck in an inferior school. Further, each such labeling depresses the job quality of the teachers and administrators in those schools. (p. 177) Within this context, the Urban Education Research Team examined the attitudes and beliefs of educators in four pilot schools.

Literature Review

The U. S. Department of Education (2007) concluded that high standards, accountability, more choices for parents, and sound, proven methods of instruction have yielded real and sustainable results. The Center on Educational Policy (2006) published a comprehensive and thorough study of the results of state tests. The study was based on testing data from all 50 states and addressed two key questions concerning NCLB: (1) Has student achievement increased, and (2) Have achievement gaps narrowed since NCLB was enacted in 2002? The report concluded that student achievement in reading and mathematics has increased since NCLB and the number of states in which achievement gaps among groups of students narrowed far exceeds the number of states where gaps widened since 2002. The rationale for the results was attributed to several reasons: (a) increased learning, (b) teaching to the test, (c) more lenient tests, (d) scoring or data analyses, and (e) changes in the populations tested. Using the percentage of students considered proficient and effect sizes as the two methods for evaluating achievement, researchers could not link the gains directly to NCLB.

A report commissioned by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University (Owens & Sunderman, 2006) concerning the effects of NCLB compared scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) with state assessment results. The study found that state assessment results show improvements in mathematics and reading, but students are not showing similar gains on the NAEP. The study also determined that the federal accountability rules have little or no impact on racial and poverty gaps. It reviewed state progress towards meeting NCLB accountability requirements and concluded that states are not moving out of improvement status. Among the findings: (a) schools most likely to be identified as needing improvement are highly segregated and enroll a disproportionate share of a state's minority and low income students, (b) many schools are not moving out of improvement status but instead moving into the fourth or fifth year of school improvement, (c) NCLB concentrates sanctions in schools serving disadvantaged and minority students, and (d) new schools continue to be added to the list of schools needing improvement.

Earlier studies confirmed, through surveys of educators, that the NCLB model promotes teaching to the test and narrowing the curriculum. Pedulla, Abrams, Madaus, Russell, Ramos, and Miao (2003) conducted a national survey of teachers on the perceived effects of...

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