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Inside The Law

Inside The Law

Legal issues at national, state and local levels.

Panel Discussion Spurs Action In the Business Ranks

Members of the Business Roundtable have taken the message that Congress intends to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind legislation as a heads-up call to action.

The 160 chief executive officers who belong to the Washington, D.C.-based association launched a coalition with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to not only sustain the bill but strengthen it. The decision came after an annual forum in September with David Dunn, acting undersecretary and chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Education; Rep. Howard McKeon (R-CA), chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee; Rep. George Miller (D-CA), a ranking member of the committee; and Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association.

Business Roundtable, which advocates public policies that promote economic growth, got behind NCLB from the get-go, forming a similar coalition to push passage in 2001. "NCLB moves on the same path many states were already on as far as accountability," said Susan Traiman, director of public policy for education and workforce at Business Roundtable. "But still it's been a culture change for many educators. I don't think anyone in the business community is surprised that implementation has been difficult."

The fourth annual forum was part of an ongoing commitment to keep tabs on the legislation's progress. Traiman credits these gatherings' success in part to questions from the audience. "The give-and-take really lets us dig into the issue," she notes.

For instance, when asked about the mismatch between state test scores compared to the lower National Association of Educational Progress scores in the same subjects, the nation's report card, Miller admits he's not yet supporting national testing. McKeon added, "We don't have to worry too much about a national test or curriculum because it's never going to pass."

Miller said that NCLB is moving in the right direction, but that "doesn't mean it's easy; it doesn't mean it's perfect; it doesn't mean it doesn't need additional resources; and it doesn't mean it doesn't need change."

-Julie Sturgeon

Final Permission for New English Language Learners Leeway

While states have been allowed to exempt reading/language arts test scores for English Language Learners in school on a case-by-case basis since 2004, the U.S. Department of Education has recently given every state permission to leave out test scores of newly enrolled ELLs when considering a school's adequate yearly progress.

The policy applies to students who have been in a U.S. school for less than a year. But it still requires states to include those students' math test scores and, beginning next year, science test scores, with accommodations as are necessary. However, states are not required to include the results when determining a school's adequate yearly progress.

The policy requires states that do exempt recently arrived ELL students from the reading/language arts assessment to publicly report the number of students exempted for that reason. And local education agencies are still responsible for providing appropriate instruction to ELL students.

Counting Subgroups

There are more than twice as many Asian/Pacific Islander students as there are whites in the Alief Independent School District in Houston. And yet when it comes to Texas' No Child Left Behind accountability system, whites are included in their own racial subgroup, but Asians aren't.

When Texas submitted its No Child plan to the U.S. Department of Education, it excluded Asians and Native Americans as subgroups because it felt the populations were too small to be reliable-3 percent are Asian/Pacific Islander and .3 percent are Native American.

When states propose their racial subgroups, the education department reviews them on a case-by-case basis, says Meredith Miller, the department's senior policy adviser. The department does not have a uniform percentage threshold for racial subgroups, she says.

For example, Arkansas does not include less its than 1 percent of Native American students as a subgroup. But California, where .8 percent of students are Native American, does.

Does allowing these differences unfairly penalize states that include small ethnic populations, or does it slap in the face of the point of the law-to ensure no child is left behind?

NCLB recognizes every state is different, Miller says. "We really didn't look at this as a fairness issue," she says. "We look at the [state's] rationale to see whether it makes sense."

The inclusion of an Asian or Native American subgroup would perhaps affect only the 10 largest Texas districts, says DeEtta Culbertson, spokeswoman for Texas Education Agency. Even though Asian or Native American students may not have subgroups, their test results help determine whether a school or district meets its overall adequate yearly progress targets, Miller says. "I don't think that those students and their needs will disappear just because they are only part of the 'all category,'" she says. -Kevin Butler

Ed Department Makes Changes In Reading First

The U.S. Department of Education is addressing several recommendations in a September report from the Office of Inspector General-an arm of the department-concerning serious issues with Reading First program's grant application process.

The report, over 30 pages long, had four major findings that sharply criticized the department:

The department had required states to meet conditions that were not part of the law;

The department intervened to influence a state's selection of particular reading programs, which was prohibited under the act.

About 1,500 school districts have received $4.8 billion in Reading First grants.

U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, although touting the benefits of Reading First programs in that it helped improve many students' reading over two years, took steps:

She reassigned leadership of the Reading First program, with former director Chris Doherty resigning, so it can be more closely managed. She is also forming a new management team and will direct the new team to contact each Reading First director to discuss progress to date and any concerns they have.

By Dec. 31, department staff will complete a review of all Reading First applications approved by the department to determine if all applications were approved consistent with applicable requirements.

Staff from another team will review public guidance related to Reading First programs to ensure they are accurate.