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Inside The Law

Inside the Law

Legal issues at national, state and local levels.

Strategy Sent to Congress For Reauthorization

In a comprehensive report, the National Education Association spelled out what it will take to make the federal No Child Left Behind act work for all children.

Congress looks to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act next year. It established in 1965 and reauthorized eight times. NEA's ESEA Advisory Committee has gathered information through hearings at conferences, an online survey of association members and workshops to see what would make NCLB work.

NEA supports the goals of NCLB, but says the law undermines state and school district authority. It "shifts public dollars to the private sector through supplemental educational services and takeovers of public schools by for-profit companies," the proposal states.

Here are some proposals for 2007 reauthorization:

Quality programs that meet all children's needs. Students must have access to pre-K, after-school intervention programs, breakfast and lunch, health care; counseling; safe transportation and drug-free schools.

High expectations with rigorous curriculum. Critical thinking, problem solving, and a deep understanding of content is pertinent. Curriculum must align with standards.

Quality conditions for teaching and lifelong learning. Smaller class sizes, i.e.,15 students; up-to-date textbooks; policies that encourage shared decision-making among staff; and having timely data of student progress.

Parental and community engagement. Policies should help families and communities be involved in schools.

Adequate and sustainable funding. Making taxes fair and eliminating inefficient business subsidies to ensure equitable funding.

The committee also proposes an accountability system using growth models to assess achievement.

NCLB Drives Shift in Funding

State assessment directors are spending 80 percent more time dealing with test security issues than they were five years ago. Also, districts are spending more money on assessment, tutoring and test prep services.

Two trends are ongoing in the test-heavy education sector: Caveon Test Security's recent survey shows that 77 percent of state assessment directors have formal policies regarding cheating, but only 5 percent have a separate budget for test security.

And Eduventures' report, K-12 Solutions Learning Markets & Opportunities, points out that assessment, tutoring and test prep markets are benefiting from the biggest revenue acceleration, jumping 6 percent in 2004-05 year, or nearly $22 billion.

While districts and states are turning to more supplemental content, Tim Wiley, a senior analyst in Eduventures K-12 Solutions Program, a research service for suppliers to schools, says it's not so important if they are used, but how. "If, at the end of the day, it helps students achieve, then it's great," he says. "But the problem comes when you buy supplemental content for the basis of helping students pass a test without teaching the higher thinking skills or letting it really sink in."

He adds that the same goes for tutoring-if it's simply used to prep kids for a specific test, it could be questionable in terms of how helpful it becomes.

Testing & Tutoring Trends:

A greater interest in Web-based products

Accelerated adoption rates of content and assessments serving English-language learners

Greater collaboration among state education departments

Schools continue to adopt new technologies including one-to-many classroom computing devices like virtual classroom platforms, digital video projectors and interactive assessments

Florida's Progress

Since the late 1970s, Florida has kept track of students with a unique identification number to ensure they were learning what they were supposed to, according to the state Department of Education.

And the hard work of the state's accountability plan, the A+ Plan for Education, which has graded schools via a letter grade since 1999, shows that more schools get As and Bs, and fewer schools have Cs, Ds and Fs.

It's something that Gov. Jeb Bush touts as being among the most comprehensive systems nationwide ensuring gains among students. "We're one of the states with the narrowest gap between the state accountability system and NAEP," he said in a recent press conference.

Other states claim to have up to 80 percent of their students on the proficient level, while the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or the nation's report card, shows only 45 percent or so of students are proficient in certain subjects, he said.

Adequate yearly progress may be lacking in one subgroup in schools, but the schools overall have been improving. The grades are based on student performance on state tests, the FCAT, and also the students' learning gains from one school year to the next. Since 1999:

A grades have shot up from 202 to 1,466

B grades have also jumped from 313 to 608

C grades, on the other hand, have decreased from 1,230 to 562

D grades went from 601 to 129

F grades plummeted from 76 to 24

Arizona Joins In Suing Feds

Arizona is suing the federal government for demanding that the scores of standardized tests-given in English-of students learning English be counted after only one year, not the three years as was in use.

The lawsuit claims that Arizona is unique in part because it has more English-language learners than many other states. The government and state had agreed previously that a school that failed to make AYP could appeal not making AYP if there were a sufficient number of ELLs in their first three years in Arizona schools.

If the state loses the suit, dozens of schools could be labeled as needing improvement. And the federal government can force the state to refund all funds used in violation of the statutory restrictions.

Report: Impact of NCLB Shows Little Change

As the White House claims achievement is raising in nearly half the states in the nation and most of them have narrowing racial achievement gaps from one report, another report shows that gaps are not narrowing, but staying relatively the same.

The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University published a report in June, Tracking Achievement Gaps and Assessing the Impact of NCLB on the Gaps: An In-depth Look into National and State Reading and Math Outcome Trends, stating that trends in achievement gains are almost the same as they were before the act became law in 2001-with modest gains in math and flat gains in reading.

Here are some key findings:

NAEP, National Assessment of Educational Progress, in grade 4 math shows temporary improvement right after NCLB became law, but then returned to a pre-reform growth rate.

By 2014, less than 25 percent of poor and black students will achieve NAEP proficiency in reading and less than half will be proficient in math.

Many states tend to inflate proficiency levels of students, so greater discrepancies between NAEP and state assessment results exist, particularly for poor, black and Hispanic students.