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Inside The Law

Inside the Law

Analyzing, Debating and Explaining No Child Left Behind

Cheating on NCLB Tests? Maybe

Some school districts and states appear to be cheating on test scores to meet achievement requirements under the No Child Left Behind law, and legislators will look into it when they consider reauthorization of NCLB this year.

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), new chair of the House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce, feels the cheating issue "ought to be part of the mix" during the reauthorization debate, says his spokesman, Tom Kiley. "Any cheating is going to undermine the core goal of the law, which is accountability and making sure that every student is proficient," Kiley says.

But other authorities are more cautious about whether cheating is worthy of federal involvement. "It's up to the states to address it," says Chad Colby, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education. "It's the people who administer the tests who have to be vigilant."

"We haven't heard that this is a widespread issue in terms of NCLB or state accountability systems," declares Alex Nock, director of the independent, bipartisan Commission on No Child Left Behind. "We went around the country talking to a lot of folks about a lot of things and this wasn't one of the topics that anybody spent any time talking about."

Reports of manipulation of test scores have popped up across the country, although authorities are wary of calling it cheating. In New Jersey, state officials say administrators and teachers who ignored test rules caused numerous test violations at two Camden elementary schools in 2004-05. Violations included giving students more time on tests and letting them use calculators for math questions. The Camden School District has since developed a security plan to block "adult interference" in testing. The plan includes rigorous training for test administrators, more monitoring, and more attention to handling test booklets.

Meanwhile, the state attorney general is conducting a criminal probe of the issue as well as alleged fiscal irregularities in the district.

New Jersey is one of 12 states that have reported "significantly higher" percentages of fourth-graders proficient in reading and math compared with the percentages of students found to be proficient under the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The differences were revealed in a study by Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), an independent research center at the University of California, Berkeley, UC Davis and Stanford University. "We did not look at the issue of cheating. We did look at how states try to game the system a bit. Part of it is probably due to teaching to the tests," says Bruce Fuller, a PACE director at UC Berkeley. But he acknowledges that "a little of it might be due to cheating."-Alan Dessoff

Three States "High Risk" for NCLB Teacher Plans

The U.S. Department of Education has labeled Utah, Missouri and Hawaii education agencies as "high risk" due to inadequate "highly qualified teacher" plans under No Child Left Behind.

The federal agency says it found "substantial deficiencies" and instructed revising the state agencies to revise them, or face consequences to be determined, says Chad Colby, department spokesman.

It mandated last year that all states detail how they would ensure teachers of core subjects were highly qualified and that poor and minority children were given the same teaching quality. Peer reviewers scored the plans against six criteria, including how to help teachers "quickly attain" high-quality status.

Utah, Missouri, Hawaii and Wisconsin, initially did not meet requirements, but the department subsequently approved revisions that Wisconsin made. "We think we have a plan that will meet their requirements," adds Larry Shumway, director of educator quality services in the Utah State Office of Education.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education was notified that the data portion has been approved, says spokesman Jim Morris.

Meanwhile, Jefferds Huyck, a 22-year teacher in Santa Cruz, Calif., left a charter school after state education officials determined he was not "highly qualified" under NCLB. Rather than enter a certification program designed for beginners, he moved to a private school.-Alan Dessoff

Reauthorization Looms

Paul L. Kimmelman, senior advisor in the Office of the CEO at Learning Point Associates, worked in K12 education for more than 30 years as a teacher, principal and superintendent. He is a featured speaker at meetings on NCLB implementation and testified before a congressional subcommittee on education reform about reauthorizing the law.

DA: What will stay and what will go under NCLB?

Kimmelman: I don't know that anything will go as much as some things will be modified. For example, I don't believe the adequate yearly progress formula will be the same after reauthorization as it is today. So obviously something will go, but something else will replace it.

DA: What can districts live with and what can't they?

Kimmelman: Districts can't live well with unfair sanctions. There are districts that do a good job for their students and have good relationships with their constituents. They should not be intended targets of NCLB in the same context as schools with a long history of not being effective with large numbers of students.

The other thing they can't live with is inadequate funding for the truly transformational work that some are undertaking to look at new models of educational delivery, like trying to convert high schools to 21st century work skills, or working with teachers unions to incorporate pay for performance programs, or doing unique things to recruit and retain high-quality teachers.

DA: Do you see a trend toward more charters and more private schools getting more public money?

Kimmelman: That is happening right now. I think one of the changes that is going to take place within the overall context of public school systems is that there will be choices for students. In school districts with populations that are unhappy with the schools, the opportunity to create charter schools may relieve some of that negative pressure and empower new partnerships within the community.

DA: Is this good for the nation's students?

Kimmelman: The devil is in the details. If charter schools are run properly, meet the needs of their students and work well with the public school district, that's good. If they are not monitored to ensure that they are meeting their goals and objectives, it is not good.

-Alan Dessoff

NCLB Grows

Following in the footsteps of Tennessee and North Carolina, Delaware, Arkansas and Florida have quality growth models to use in their districts to ensure students in any particular grade are improving on tests year after year under the No Child Left Behind law.

The three states received approval from the U.S. Department of Education last fall to use the plans, after Tennessee and North Carolina had previously received the OK to do so.

"There are many different routes for states to take, but they all must begin with a commitment to annual assessment and disaggregation of data," U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has stated. "And they all must lead to closing the achievement gap and every student reaching grade level by 2014. We are open to new ideas, but when it comes to accountability, we are not taking our eye off the ball."

Having already approved five high-quality growth models, the department plans to approve five more. A rigorous peer review process was used to ensure the process was fair. The department also plans to gather data to test the idea that growth models can be reliable in measuring student improvement and holding schools accountable for results.

-Angela Pascopella