Inside The Law
Another Alternative For Special Ed Students
A new flexibility option under No Child Left Behind gives states the chance to allow 2 percent of students with academic disabilities to take tests that are specifically geared toward their abilities.
This option is above the 1 percent of severely disabled students that already take an alternative assessment test. The option comes after research shows that this other group of students may not be severely disabled but they could really benefit from this other test, according to Samara Yudof, U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman.
Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced the changes in May. States that meet the eligibility guidelines can adjust their 2005-06 state-set progress goals for such students.
Spellings notes that to increase the state's ability to provide rigorous assessment and instruction, the Education Department will put $14 million toward improving assessments, helping teachers in the classroom, and conducting research for students with disabilities held to alternate and modified achievement standards in 2005. More funds will be directed in 2006.
"We're supportive of the flexibility," says Beth Foley, spokeswoman and policy specialist for National Association of State Directors of Special Education. But she says NASDSE doesn't agree with the option's restrictions on states.
"The other thing we're concerned about is that there has to be intensive efforts to educate the school personnel ... who will determine which children will fall into the 2 percent category," Foley says.
Going Beyond The Call
The Ocean State is going beyond its call of duty.
At the very least, Rhode Island educators say, students in each of its 36 districts should perform on grade level in their subjects by the year 2014. But Rhode Island high school students will be asked to go beyond that, according to Deputy Commissioner Todd Flaherty.
"No Child Left Behind envisions that kids show proficiency with a test--that is not our system," says Flaherty. "Our system ... is much more about demonstrating proficiency through applied learning, such as through a senior project or a five-day exhibition doing a science experiment."
This is among several reasons U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings visited the state in April, calling Rhode Island a leader in several nationwide efforts to implement the federal government's education plan.
The New Diploma System, effective for the class of 2008, uses three themes: personalization; literacy; and proficiency-based graduation requirements.
High schools will be restructured so every student has at least one adult involved in the student's life, says Elliot Krieger, education department spokesman. Personalization will help students plan a future path, and demonstrate learning with the support of adult mentors.
Students in fifth grade or later who are behind in reading will get a personal literacy plan. The plan could range from extra reading assignments to individual tutoring to special reading classes.
Students must demonstrate proficiency in English/language arts, math, science, social studies, technology and the arts. Students can't be barred from graduation if they fail a single test, Krieger says. "The goal is to have all students ready for college or a high level of employment after high school."
The Teacher Incentive Fund: Pro or Con?
U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings wants more respect for teachers. To do that, she recommends rewarding teachers who help close the achievement gap in the most challenging classrooms and take the toughest jobs. The two major national teacher unions don't necessarily agree with the details..
President Bush is proposing a new $500 million Teacher Incentive Fund, which would give states money to reward teachers who take the toughest jobs and achieve real results. A portion of the fund would go toward developing new performance-based teacher compensation systems that reward experience, results and hard work rather than credentials and seniority. Spellings points out the success of Denver School District's pilot of performance-based pay.
"You have to be careful and read between the lines and find out exactly what she's talking about," says Janet Bass, spokeswoman at American Federation of Teachers. "We think all teachers should be rewarded financially for what they do. They have the hardest jobs out there and their salary stinks."
As for performance-based pay, Bass says it could work if all students in a school improve academically, then all teachers in that school should be rewarded financially. Merit pay doesn't work because it tends to be used more for teachers who are favored by their principals.
The National Education Association agrees that merit pay often turns into "popularity contests" with principals, says spokeswoman Denise Cardinal. "We want the best teachers to share the best practices," Cardinal says. "We want them to share their expertise and share lesson plans so everyone can become a better teacher."
Cardinal notes that Denver's performance-based pay is similar to what is done already. Pay is based on experience and knowledge and that's how teachers move up in salary, she says. Cardinal also wants to ensure the president's proposal to put money into recruiting professionals in math and science into teaching is done right. "As long as the teachers become highly qualified" it's fine, she says.
Council Rebuts NEA Lawsuit
When the National Education Association filed a lawsuit this spring charging that Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings is violating No Child Left Behind by not providing enough funding to states and school districts, the American Legislative Exchange Council had to speak.
Lori Drummer, the council's education task force director, says the greatest flaw in the lawsuit is the charge that NCLB is a mandate. It's not. District Administration spoke with Drummer about the issues:
DA: What are your biggest issues with the NEA lawsuit?
Drummer: First off, it's about the fundamental question of, is spending more money on education going to help more students learn? Spending more money is not going to help more students learn. We're much more supportive of accountability measures and states having their own accountability measures. I'm also concerned about the precedent. They decided to sue instead of going through the legislative process, which is not only to create laws and policy but also to allocate the funds necessary to implement the laws.
DA: The union's lead counsel has said the law clearly says states don't have to follow rules unless those regulations are federally funded. What would you say?
Drummer: All the states have the freedom to comply with the law and make their own standards. Some states decided to make their compliance a very expensive procedure. Some states have decided to be very fiscally responsible in implementing the law. I would also say that it's up to the state to participate in the program. States don't have to participate in the program and can decide to hold their local education agencies responsible for educating students and holding them accountable for student learning.
DA: What are the major obstacles and opportunities facing states under NCLB?
Drummer: I think the obstacles are really learning what the federal law requires. Many of the people on the ground implementing this law have been really misinformed of what federal government standards are and what their own state standards are. And parents are not well-educated on their options [of school choice for their children].