A new report by the Center on Education Policy found that an estimated 48 percent of U.S. public schools failed to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2011.

The latest figure is an increase of the 39 percent of schools that did not make AYP in 2010 and marks the highest percentage since NCLB took effect in 2002.

NCLB Basics

The No Child Left Behind Act requires states to set yearly targets for the percentage of students scoring proficiently on state tests and for other performance indicators, culminating in the NCLB goal of 100 percent of students scoring proficient by 2014.

The states determine whether the schools receiving government funding have made yearly progress annually based on test administrated during the previous school year.

If any of the schools fail to make adequate yearly progress for two consecutive years or more they have to have a series of NCLB-mandated interventions intended to improve student achievement.

Lack of Progress at Six-Year High

The percentage of schools not making AYP reached a six-year high in 35 states, according to CEP’s analysis of trends from 2006 through 2011 for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The report found that 24 states and the District of Columbia, half or more of the public schools did not make AYP, a leap from just 12 such states in 2010. In five states, Florida, Missouri, New Mexico, Massachusetts and South Carolina, and D.C., three-quarters or more of schools did not make AYP.

Group Criticizes Measurements

“The fact that half of American schools are considered ‘failing’ under NCLB shows how crudely the law measures the quality of a school,” said Jack Jennings, CEP’s president and CEO.

“NCLB needs to be changed, and since Congress is hamstrung, the Obama administration is right to move ahead with waivers of NCLB provisions.”

The authors noted that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the Administration’s decision to allow states to apply for unprecedented flexibility from some of the most important aspects of NCLB through a waiver process back in September.

“With so many schools not making AYP in some states and with Congress lagging in reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, it’s not surprising that Secretary Duncan would consider offering waivers from the AYP requirements and the 2014 deadline,” said Alexandra Usher, CEP research assistant and author of the report.

The CEP report found a wide variation across the states in 2011, ranging from about 11 percent of schools failing to make AYP in Wisconsin to about 89 percent in Florida.

But the analysis says that it is inappropriate to compare AYP results across states because the “variations may be due in large part to differences in states’ tests, demographics, proficiency targets, and other factors.”

“States with a high percentage of schools failing to make AYP should not automatically be considered to have weak educational systems—they may have harder tests or higher proficiency targets,” said Usher.