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Inside The Law

Inside the Law

Analyzing, Debating and Explaining No Child Left Behind

U.S. DOE Gives Florida Schools "Provisional" Break

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and state education officials have struck a one-of-a-kind deal with the U.S. Department of Education to prevent 825 schools from being labeled as failures for not meeting adequate yearly progress standards under the federal No Child Left Behind act.

Instead, the schools, which missed one or more of the 30 AYP criteria, are designated "provisional AYP" while they work toward full compliance. No other state has asked for a similar designation.

Florida is the first state to gain provisional AYP status for some of its schools and state and federal officials are negotiating what it means in terms of sanctions or other requirements, says Melanie Etters, press secretary in the Florida Department of Education.

Florida reports that it has 1,111 schools making AYP this year, up from 534 in 2003. There also are 1,169 schools not making progress, down from 2,473.

"We appreciate your patience while we work with U.S. DOE to further define provisional AYP. We will keep you apprised of our progress," state Education Commissioner John L. Winn wrote to state school superintendents.

"It's merely a title right now, a label at this point. They're still treated as schools that did not make AYP," explains Chad Colby, deputy press secretary at U.S. DOE.

Although they did not meet all the AYP criteria, the 825 provisional schools earned an "A" or "B" grade under an A+ grading system that Florida introduced in 1999.

At least one education expert calls the title "confusing." "It looks more like an attempt to take care of a political problem instead of offering a real solution," says Greg Speed, of Communities for Quality Education, a Washington-based advocacy group.

The provisional status is one of four AYP "flexibilities" U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings granted Florida after Gov. Bush and Winn visited her in March. The other flexibilities deal with revising proficiency targets and subgroup sizes and making adjustments for students with disabilities.

--Alan Dessoff

Some Hispanic Student Gains, But Why?

When Education Secretary Margaret Spellings recently exclaimed that Hispanic students are catching up to white kids in reading and math and No Child Left Behind was mainly behind it, some educators disagreed. Spellings says the federal law created a "laser focus" on the needs of minorities, including Hispanic and special education children. She notes that Maryland, Georgia and New York all show test score improvement this year.

"We've got test scores for reading and math and there are still some [achievement] gaps there," says William Reinhard, spokesman for Maryland Department of Education. "In grades 3-8 and 10, where we test, it's definitely closing." Reinhard says NCLB wasn't the only contributor. In 1991, the state instituted a testing program where results were disaggregated by race to find gaps. "There has been a lot of attention to this."

New York DOE spokesman Jonathan Burman says that in many areas, Hispanic students are improving and the achievement gap is starting to close. But he fell short of giving NCLB credit. And the National Education Association's spokesman Dan Kaufman says that while closing the achievement gap is a superb goal, the narrowing achievement gap does not necessarily mean NCLB is behind it.

California Sues Over English-Language-Learner Tests

Ten school districts in California are suing the state over what they think is a violation of the federal No Child Left Behind law by forcing students with limited English skills to take annual standardized tests in English rather than in their primary languages.

The lead district, Coachella Valley Unified School District in Riverside and Imperial counties, and other districts say testing 1.6 million students in English who are still learning the language yields invalid and unreliable scores.

While the state Department of Education would not comment on the lawsuit, state testing director Deb Sigman says all English Language Learner students who have been in California for less than 12 months can take a primary language test along with an English standards test in English. The primary language test tests skills in math, reading, written expression and spelling in Spanish.

When asked if this leaves various other language speaking students at a disadvantage, Sigman says that No Child Left Behind claims that states must develop tests to the most "practical extent possible."

When asked if the one-year period was unfair to some students who need more time to develop English skills, Sigman says, "most of our ELL students come to us in kindergarten and the testing begins at the end of the second grade year. We believe very strongly that students ... become as fluent as possible so they have full access to the system."

Illinois Gives a Break

In Illinois, 61,000 limited English learners can breathe easier.

The state Board of Education recently approved lower passing scores for a test given to students in bilingual programs for less than three years. The new scoring cutoff is meant to rectify what some say is unfair requirements under the No Child Left Behind act. NCLB mandates that certain percentages of subgroups, including bilingual students, are to meet grade-level standards in reading and math every year.