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Inside The Law

Inside the Law

Legal issues at national, state and local levels.

Tutoring Concerns Lurk

Only about 12 percent of American students eligible for Supplemental Educational Services under the No Child Left Behind law are actually receiving the services. SES gives low-income parents real options to get free tutoring for their children.

While the 2004-05 school year numbers are unavailable, the U.S. Department of Education says that in 2003-04 year, 226,000 students received tutoring and 32,000 students transferred to other schools.

As a pilot program, the Education Department has allowed Chicago, Boston, and most recently, New York City districts to tutor their own students. The law initially prohibited failing school districts from tutoring their own students, and instead, had to have an outside, private company tutor the students. The latest data show that 2,583 private providers, including for profit and non-profit groups, offer services to schools nationwide.

"The point is to get data," says Susan Aspey of the federal DOE. Through these pilot programs, the department hopes to gain valuable information that can be shared with other states and districts to improve the quality and delivery of tutoring. The pilots will also ensure that more eligible students are getting SES and will offer better information on the effectiveness of these programs, the department claims.

Growth Models Under Review

Outside peers, including representatives of academia, private organizations, and state and local education agencies, will evaluate the growth-based accountability models under No Child Left Behind that 20 states recently submitted to the U.S. Department of Education.

"This pilot program allows us to test the idea that growth models show promise as fair, reliable and innovative methods of giving states credit for student improvement over time," says U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.

The growth models submitted by Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Utah must be based on seven principles.

The reviewers will evaluate each proposal based on the Peer Review Guidance issued by the Education Department. The department will hold conference calls between states and peer reviewers to clarify any questions the reviewers might have. All proposals will be posted on the department's Web site and recommendations for approval are due to Spellings by May.

1. Ensure all students are proficient by 2014 and set annual state goals to ensure the achievement gap is closing;

2. Set expectations for achievement based on meeting grade-level proficiency;

3. Hold schools accountable for achievement in reading/language arts and math;

4. Ensure all students are included in the assessment and accountability system, hold schools accountable for performance of each subgroup;

5. Include assessments in reading/language arts and math that have been in use for more than a year and have received approval through NCLB standards and assessment review process for the 2005-06 year. The assessment must show results from grade to grade and year to year;

6. Track student progress as part of the state data system;

7. Include student participation rates and achievement as separate academic indicators in the state accountability system.

America Can Speak Out

A new bi-partisan independent commission has been created to recommend ideas to Congress and the Bush administration in preparation for the 2007 reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind law.

Commission on No Child Left Behind will host five national hearings focusing on teachers, assessments, accountability, sanctions and incentives. Its Web site will provide the public, policymakers and educators with background information on the law, updates on future hearings and reports, and state-by-state academic achievement data. People can also submit concerns, ideas and thoughts about NCLB via the Web site.

New Reports, Similar Conclusions: NCLB Needs Work

Administrators and teacher organizations have been complaining for three years now.

But this time, two studies have come to similar conclusions: No Child Left Behind needs some tweaking when it comes to state accountability plans.

States Test Limits of Federal AYP Flexibility, released last fall by the Center on Education Policy, and The Unraveling of No Child Left Behind: How Negotiated Changes Transform the Law, released in February by The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, explain that individual states are changing their accountability plans to essentially get more flexibility in meeting adequate yearly progress.

The problem, the reports say, is that there is little uniformity of what states can or cannot do under the law.

Texas, for example, had been testing 9 percent of its students over a year ago using alternate assessments and counting those scores toward AYP, while other states were only allowed up to 3 percent, the CEP report claims. Texas was threatened with fines for exceeding the limits, but the state later agreed to pay a fine related to the late reporting of scores. The U.S. Department of Education settled on a 5 percent cap, still higher than what other states are allowed, the CEP report claims.

As for Florida, the Civil Rights Project report claims, the education department approved last April an amendment that allows Florida to add a new definition of AYP. "Provisional AYP" was given to those schools that received an "A" or "B" under the state accountability plan but did not make AYP under NCLB. Florida was the first state and only state as of February with a "provisional AYP" rating, the report claims.

"So it is about what you can get in private negotiations between states and the Department of Education," says Gail Sunderman, the Civil Rights Project study's lead author. "There is no neutral, clear process."

"This is the quintessential backroom deal," adds Jack Jennings, president and CEO of CEP. "Flexibility was needed because it [the law] was considered too rigid. But with all the flexibility, there are no uniform criteria. It's on a case-by-case basis."

And he adds that state officials must talk to each other to see what the others are getting to get more flexibility, and thus, the changes are watering down the law's intent.

Susan Aspey of the Education Department calls Jennings' comment "absurd," explaining that the department has issued clear guidelines regarding the policies. "Of course the states talk to each other it's common sense and good policy practice to learn from the innovations and policy practices that your peers are undertaking," she says.

What works in one state may not be appropriate in another, Aspey explains. Each state has different testing systems, policies and populations of students. "And we consider each state's unique qualities when deciding whether to approve changes to their accountability plans," she adds. "All of the state's plans and what changes we've approved are posted on our Web site."

The CEP report ends with saying the Education Department should open all state requests for changes to other states and the public, and then when it denies changes or approves changes explain the reasons and give state officials or the public a chance to comment.

Change is Good

Some popular changes in state AYP policies approved by the Department of Education:

Confidence intervals, which allow for fluctuations in test scores and bolsters a school's percentage of student scoring at proficient levels.

Performance indices, which give schools "partial credit" for student performance below the proficient level.

Retesting, which allows students to retake a different version of the same test and use the students' best scores to count toward AYP.

Increased minimum subgroup sizes, which means that in some schools, subgroups do not get counted for AYP.