Gallup Goes to School: The Importance of Confidence Intervals for Evaluating "Adequate Yearly Progress" in Small Schools

Last Updated: October 01, 2003

Gallup Goes to School

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By Theodore Coladarci

Indicators of school-level achievement, such as the percentage of students who are proficient in a particular content area, are subject to random year-to-year variation in much the same way that the results of an opinion poll will vary from one random sample to another. This random variation, which is more pronounced for a small school, should be taken into account by education officials when evaluating school progress in a policy climate of high stakes. To do otherwise is to unnecessarily risk the false identification of a failing school. In this monograph, I describe the application of confidence intervals to the evaluation of "adequate yearly progress" for No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Throughout, I demonstrate the particular relevance of confidence intervals for small schools. Upon completion, readers will understand why 27 states included confidence intervals in their NCLB accountability plans (and perhaps wonder why the remaining states did not).

The ambitious agenda of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 ([NCLB] 2002) sets unprecedented challenges for public schools in the United States. And these challenges are particularly daunting for states that have a sizable rural population, where the major precepts of NCLB are often at variance with the reality of rural education (e.g., Reeves, 2003; Tompkins, 2003). To be sure, NCLB provisions regarding school choice, teacher qualifications, technical assistance, supplemental education services, and the evaluation of adequate yearly progress will be tough for any school to accommodate. But these provisions will be considerably more difficult for schools that are small and geographically isolated — that is, for the many schools in this country that reside in rural communities.