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Inside the Law

<li>States Try Out Remodeled NCLB Assessments <li>Abstinence-Only Funds Ignite Debate <li>Putting

States Try Out Remodeled NCLB Assessments

With Congress Stymied in its efforts to rewrite the controversial No Child Left Behind law, which turned 6 last month, the U.S. Department of Education is attempting to create more flexibility within the legislation in terms of gauging student performance.

As of February, eligible states can apply to take part in the DOE's growth model pilot program. Rather than measure the performance of groups of students, as NCLB does currently, growth models track the progress of individual students. Participating states will use both methods so the DOE can determine if growth models elicit more accurate information.

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings hopes broadening the federal law's scope will allow states another way to measure individual student progress. "Our work on reauthorization has shown broad bipartisan support for growth models, and now many states have improved data systems so they can track individual student growth over time," Spellings said in a statement in December.

The growth model pilot program was first initiated in 2005. Nine states-Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio and Tennessee-have tried it out.

"Some combination of models may be an appropriate measure," says Les Morse, director of assessments and accountability for Alaska's department of education.

Morse believes that Alaska's efforts to gather student information under both models will have one unequivocal result: "We can make more decisions based on better evidence." -Steven Scarpa


Abstinence-Only Funds Ignite Debate

Amid the whirlpool of forces pulling at teens that include pop culture and the tribulations of celebrities, Congress and the Bush administration are pushing hard for "abstinence-only" education. But a growing number of states are flat-out rejecting the federal programs, saying they don't work.

States are divided on what they want taught in sex ed: 14 require abstinence and contraception; 19 require only abstinence; and 17 leave it to their local school boards.

"The governors are saying, 'We in the states are doing the right thing by giving teens the information they need to prevent an unintended pregnancy,'" said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a recent CBS interview.


Putting Family Life to the Test

Social factors outside school districts' control strongly influence student achievement gaps that appear in kindergarten and persist through high school, says a new report from the Educational Testing Service.

Drawn from academic research, databases and surveys, the report examined numerous social factors aff ecting early school achievement and accountability calculations under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The report, entitled "The Family: America's Smallest School," concludes that two-thirds of differences in eighthgrade reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress could be predicted by the percentages of children under age 18 who live with one parent, of children age 5 or younger whose parents read to them every day, of eighth-graders who missed three or more school days in a single month, and of eighth-graders who watch five or more hours of television in a school day.

"What happens in schools is very important, but what happens outside schools is also very important," says the report's co-author Richard J. Coley.

The report's authors encourage educational leaders to take action to address some of the various social inequities. For example, Coley says, school districts could emphasize to parents the importance of limiting television watching, or provide adult literacy programs to non- English-fluent parents to help them read to their children. -Kevin Butler