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Federal Agency's Unpublished Study

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Washington--Title I, the 17-year-old federal education program for disadvantaged students that the Reagan Administration tried to abolish last year, has been found to be "successful" and "effective" in an as-yet-unpublished evaluation conducted by the U.S. Education Department (ed).

In fact, Title I has been so successful that "a 15-year decline in educational achievement is beginning to reverse, particularly among low-achieving groups," according to the report, a copy of which was obtained by Education Week.

The study, part of a department-wide evaluation mandated by federal law, says that Title I students progressed faster in elementary-school reading and mathematics classes than other disadvantaged students.

Department Gains

In addition, department researchers found that achievement gains made during one school year lasted throughout the summer and into the next year. And of the children who leave the Title I program each year, 60 percent "graduate" to regular classes, the study says.

The evaluation's findings, which were made available to the Congress last month, have not been released to the public. Although Marvin Liebman, a spokesman for the department, said the study was currently being printed and would be released "sometime within the next few weeks,'' some education lobbyists have accused the department of suppressing the evaluation's positive findings.

In interviews, they pointed out that the evaluation was conducted at the direction of department officials, who last year tried unsuccessfully to persuade the Congress to repeal the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which created Title I.

The Administration succeeded in considerably reducing the amount of detail in the Title I law, and the ed is in the process of rewriting the regulations governing the program.

Funding Reduced

In addition, funding for the program has been reduced by 22 percent, from $3.1 billion in fiscal 1981 to $2.4 billion in fiscal 1982.

"The [Administration is] trying to kill the program, so why say anything good about it?" said Alan Cohen, a lobbyist for the Illinois state department of education. "They don't want to make the programs look good, but you can't lie with the statistics and the facts. The federal dollars have been used for programs that work."

Gary L. Jones, the department's deputy undersecretary for planning, budget, and evaluation, denied that the department was withholding the study. "We think Title I is great. It's the biggest [federal education program], and it's one of the best we have," he said.

The department researchers based most of their findings on a five-year, federally funded study of Title I--known as the "Sustaining Effects Study"--which the evaluation document describes as "nearing completion."

That study found that Title I now serves 5.4 million children in 68 percent of the nation's public schools. In addition, more than half of those schools also provide programs for private-school students, as is required by federal law.

The researchers also drew on the findings of other national and local studies. Among them:

The National Assessment of Educational Progress found last year that nine-year-olds in Title I schools "had shown improved achievement levels" in the basic skills.

A test administered in 16 New York City community school districts found that students, many of whom attend Title I classes, improved by as much as 50 percent in reading comprehension and 16 percent in vocabulary from 1980-81.

In the Chicago school system's Title I program, students gained in reading ability an average of 4 percentile points per year during the past two years. In some instances, Title I students showed achievement gains 67 percent higher than other disadvantaged students.

A Title I program in New Jersey last year helped students' standardized test scores rise, on the average, from the 23rd to the 36th percentile in English, and from the 26th to the 42nd percentile in mathematics.

Cuts 'Ironic'

Mr. Cohen claims "it is ironic" that Title I is being cut at a time when the program has received positive evaluations from both department researchers and Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell.

In testimony before the House Budget Committee last March about an Administration proposal to eliminate programs for Title I, education of the handicapped, and bilingual education, and to replace them instead with a new block-grants package, the Secretary singled out Title I as praiseworthy.

"The studies do show encouraging progress on Title I .... We have ample evidence that Title I has been a successful program ... and it is yielding real benefits," he said.

Such testimony "doesn't matter to the Administration," claims Linda Brown, director of the federal education project for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

"The issue is not what works, what's beneficial, what's right. Given some of the other Administration actions, such as the tax-cut bill, [the federal government] can't afford education programs unless the Congress takes some action [to reduce the federal deficit]," she said.

Studies Confirmed

Alice S. Baum, executive director of the National Advisory Council on the Education of Disadvantaged Children, said she is "in no way surprised that the evaluation evidence confirms other studies."

"The efforts to turn Title I into block grants, to deregulate, and now to force huge budget reductions obviously have nothing to do with the success of the program, but with some other agenda," she continued.

"The Administration wants to make educating disadvantaged students a state responsibility. That's a naive approach because the program was necessitated by the inability or the unwillingness of some states and school districts to address the needs of disadvantaged children on their own," Ms. Baum said.

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