U.S. again changes new education law

States to gain leeway on testing rules under No Child Left Behind

March 29, 2004|By Leslie Postal | Leslie Postal,ORLANDO SENTINEL

The No Child Left Behind Act is being tweaked for the third time in recent months, but the changes aren't likely to appease state officials who are bristling at complying with the school-reform act.

Education Secretary Rod Paige will announce the changes today during a speech at the annual National School Boards Association conference at the Orange County Convention Center in Florida. The conference is to draw more than 6,000 school board members from across the country.

The changes aim to address some of the "practical challenges" that states have faced in implementing President Bush's law, U.S. education officials said.

"We are listening to parents and educators, and making adjustments," Paige said in remarks sent by e-mail to the Orlando Sentinel. "But we are not willing to sidestep or ignore the heart of NCLB -- making sure that all children count."

The new policy will give states leeway in calculating the percentage of students tested at each school -- a requirement under the law -- allowing them to use a three-year average rather than a single year's figure.

It will also allow states to exempt students from the testing calculation if they didn't take the tests because of medical emergencies.

Both changes are to ensure that a small "glitch" doesn't unfairly hurt a school that made good-faith efforts to have at least 95 percent of its students take required standardized tests, a Department of Education official said.

The No Child Left Behind Act requires all students to take state reading and math tests, and penalizes schools that receive federal money if their students fail to improve. The law aims to make schools pay attention to students who typically struggle, including minorities, children with disabilities and those from low-income homes.

Across the country, educators and politicians -- even those who agree with the goals -- have raised objections to the law's associated costs and its complicated rules. Schools, for example, are judged on up to 45 benchmarks, and missing just one means that a school "needs improvement."

States set their own standards under the law and use their own tests, so what is progress in one state wouldn't necessarily be in another, creating another cause for complaints.

Complaints about the law have come from across the nation. Last week, education leaders in 14 states sent Paige a letter asking that they be able to use their state accountability system instead of the U.S. plan.

The change to be proposed today relates to the requirement that schools test 95 percent of all students and 95 percent of various demographic groups. The two previous changes related to the testing of students still learning English and requirements to hire "highly qualified" teachers.

Under the new revision, states could let schools average the testing participation rate so they would not be penalized if their participation rate dips below 95 percent in one year as long as it is above that in others.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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