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Inside The Law

Inside the Law

Legal issues at national, state and local levels

Four States Collaborate to Improve Middle School Test Scores

The Ohio Board of Regents is spearheading a $15 million, five-year project to improve middle school reading and math scores. Called the Middle School Achievement through Technology-Rich Interventions, the project brings together partners in Ohio, California, Kansas and New Mexico to develop games, activities and learning resources for iPods, PDAs, video cameras and other mobile technologies.

Tim Best, project director for the Ohio Board of Regents, says that MATRIX will focus on rural and urban schools that are not making AYP. "This project is what the Bush administration is looking for--nontraditional partnerships," says Kitty Salinas, project director for the Alliance for Distance Education in California. "The five main partners are three universities and two nonprofits. All of us have a lot of involvement in public schools."

Some partners will create and share handheld curriculum units; others will conduct research and evaluation. The Advanced Learning Technologies in Education Consortia at the University of Kansas, for example, is developing a program to help struggling learners with math vocabulary. "We want to come up with ways for kids to interact with the vocabulary on a mobile device, to get them to manipulate the words in a context that's meaningful to them," says Marilyn Alt, director of ALTEC. Barbara Chamberlin is part of New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. Her group, which is working on interactive math games for the iPod, would like to take advantage of the video capabilities to reach different types of learners. "Part of what excites us is the sexy coolness that comes with the iPod, that 'gee whiz' factor that motivates kids," she says.

The final and perhaps most important piece of the project is research and evaluation. "We'll spend the first three years doing formative evaluation and the next two doing scientifically based research," says Sheila Cassidy, executive director of the Wexford Institute. Cassidy says she'll conduct lots of professional development about using emerging mobile technology and Web-based programs. Her group will then study how technology helps underperforming students and what it's like for the teachers to use all of this equipment. "During the first three years, our goal is to help people collect data and learn from it," says Cassidy, who wants to understand how mixes of technology can help kids in underperforming schools. "We expect to learn a lot, and with four different states' worth of kids to study, I think we will."

NOTABLE QUOTABLE " The biggest impact of NCLB may be a revolution in the way we talk about education for students with disabilities. The standard has always been an appropriate education that provides some minimal benefi t or progress on IEP goals. We only heard 'world class' or 'state of the art' applied to general education. With NCLB, school systems will have to start applying those terms to students with disabilities if they are not to be left behind." -Ricki Sabia, associate director, National Down Syndrome Society's National Policy Center  


Ed Shapiro is an Iacocca Professor of Education and the director of Lehigh University's Center for Promoting Research to Practice. District Administration recently spoke with Shapiro about the reauthorization of IDEA, new methods for identifying children with learning disabilities and response to intervention, the problem-solving approach aimed at preventing misidentification.

Q: Does the reauthorized IDEA require or suggest that every district use new methods of identifying students with learning disabilities?

A: The IDEA revision is worded carefully to allow options and flexibility. Basically, states cannot require that the discrepancy between ability and achievement be used in making an eligibility determination. The bottom line is that it is more than a suggestion but not a requirement.

Q: Are there ways to ensure that the new identification practices are appropriate for English language learners?

A: The new ID methods, which are based on data and problem solving, will address ELL students the same way students who are at risk for any language or reading problem would be. In fact, the model is likely to be better at identifying students struggling due to language problems than our current methods, which often do not allow for an examination of how much a student grows over time.

Q: How does this relate to NCLB?

A: The basic premise of NCLB is that by focusing on catching students early, identifying and assessing all students to pinpoint those likely to have difficulty, and putting in place appropriate remediation strategies to which the entire school is committed is likely to prevent the development of reading problems. The concept of RTI is exactly the same.