Policy Factsheet

Standards-based Accountability or Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)

Reasons for Policy

  • The achievement gap on standardized tests is viewed as the most significant educational challenge facing American society in the 21st century.1
  • The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) aims to close the achievement gap between high- and low-performing children, especially minority and low-income students.2
  • Adequate yearly progress (i.e., standards-based accountability) requirements are the central mechanism for improving school performance and the academic achievement of different subgroups of students.1

Policy Components

  • Standards apply only to schools that receive federal funds
  • Schools must meet an absolute level of performance in reading and mathematics with a defined minimum number of students who must meet the proficiency level
  • Each state establishes its own performance goals
  • Schools that fail to make AYP for two or more consecutive years are subject to a series of sanctions

Desired Outcomes

  • Improve teaching quality within schools
  • Improve reading and mathematics proficiency in low-performing subgroups
  • Close the achievement gap between high- and low-performing children

Level of Evidence Available to Evaluate Effectiveness of Policy

For all policies we describe on this website, we have applied the Standards of Evidence as defined by Flay et al. (2005) in the Standards of Evidence document published by Prevention Science.

The effectiveness level of this policy is 3: Insufficient Evidence Available.

The levels of effectiveness as noted are:

  1. meets criteria for policy effectiveness (consistent, positive outcomes from at least two high-quality experimental or quasi-experimental trials using a comparison group or interrupted time series design);
  2. consistent evidence available linking policy with positive outcomes from high-quality observational studies only;
  3. insufficient evidence available for policy or policy components.

Achievable Results

  • Qualitative studies suggest that standards-based accountability may be associated with reductions in the curricular content covered in school. Classroom learning is narrowed to tested subjects, and subject area knowledge is fragmented into test-related pieces.4 However, more high-quality research is needed to understand the effects.


1 Kim, J & Sunderman, GL (2005). Measuring academic proficiency under the No Child Left Behind Act: Implications for educational equity. Educational Researcher, 34(8), 3-13.

2 No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Pub. L. No. 107-110, 115 Stat. 1425.

3 Flay, BR, Biglan, A, Boruch, RF, Ganzalez Castro, F, Gottfredson, D, Kellam, S, Moscicki, EK, Schinke, S, Valentine, JC, & Ji, P (2005). Standards of evidence: Criteria for efficacy, effectiveness and dissemination. Prevention Science, 6(3), 151-175.

4 Au, W (2007). High-stakes testing and curricular control: A qualitative metasynthesis. Educational Researcher, 36, 258-268.