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Proposed Rule for Chapter 1 Evaluations Issued

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Washington--The Education Department has issued proposed regulations to implement changes in the Chapter 1 compensatory-education program made by the omnibus reauthorization law passed by the Congress this year.

The bulk of the regulations would govern the increased evaluation and "program improvement" efforts now required of state agencies and school districts.

As was the case during Congressional debate on the reauthorization, one of the most controversial issues in the process that led to the regulations concerned the amount of authority state agencies would be given over districts found to have failing Chapter 1 programs.

The law requires districts to submit improvement plans when required evaluation efforts show insufficient student achievement, and to devise new plans in cooperation with state agencies if the original plan is not effective.

The issue of the balance of power between states and districts dominated negotiations over the regulations, according to observers and participants.

"The most controversial thing had to do with who has more authority; is it the state level or the local level? That's the bottom line," said Carley Ochoa, director of special programs for the Riverside, Calif., schools.

Ms. Ochoa was a participant in the Education Department's first "negotiated rulemaking" procedure, which was mandated by the reauthorization law despite the department's opposition.

In negotiated rulemaking, agency representatives sit down with interested parties and negotiate compromises--which the agency is bound to accept--on as many provisions as possible. Only then are proposed regulations published in the Federal Register.

Items on which participants are unable to reach a consensus are decided by the agency.

A public comment period is still mandatory before the rules become final, and ed will accept comments on the Chapter 1 proposal until Dec. 20.

The negotiators reached consensus on relatively few items, but participants were unanimous in praising the negotiating process.

"I think it was a good effort, although I think it needed more time," said Mitchell Akers, federal programs liaison for the Pennsylvania Education Department. "Even if we ultimately decide that there are things we don't like about the results, at least we had a voice in it."

Many participants and representatives of organizations with a stake in the process who were contacted last week said they had not had enough time to review the proposed regulations, and declined to discuss areas of disagreement.

Ms. Ochoa said she and other local-level representatives were dissatisfied with provisions on the process through which states promulgate regulations dealing with Chapter 1.

The law requires states to create committees of educators to review regulations, and it specifies that the panels be convened when emergen4cy rules are proposed. Local representatives pushed for a requirement that they review all major rules, but the regulations only "encourage" that.

Local representatives also opposed a provision allowing states to set minimum standards, in addition to the national standards set out in the regulations, for evaluating the success of local Chapter 1 programs.

The department sided with the state representatives, arguing in its notice that this authority was "implicit" in the statute.

Edward Kealy, a governmental-relations specialist for the National School Boards Association, said he was particularly concerned about a provision allowing state agencies to require districts to assess improvements in Chapter 1 students' performance in the regular school program.

"This goes way beyond what you need to evaluate a Chapter 1 program'' and "way beyond anything discussed in the rulemaking," he said.

Mr. Kealy also criticized a clause allowing a state to collect information from applicant districts that it "finds necessary to ensure compliance" with certain regulations.

"This could be scary; it is just an open loophole to allow them to require virtually any kind of paperwork," he said.

Carnie Hayes, governmental-relations director for the Council of Chief State School Officers, said "there is some concern" about the department's proposal to apply its uniform fiscal-control guidelines, known as "edgar," to Chapter 1. That program and the Chapter 2 block grants had been the only programs exempt from the guidelines, and Ms. Hayes said some states now use other methods.

As contained in the Oct. 21 Federal Register, the program-improvement and evaluation-standards sections of the proposed regulations would:

Require districts to test Chapter 1 students with "nationally normed'' tests; to test skills in reading, math, and language arts in grades 2 through 12; and to test on a uniform annual basis, either each fall or each spring.

Mandate evaluation of both aggregate student performance and progress toward goals set by school districts.

Require districts to evaluate Chapter 1 students' mastery of advanced skills, such as critical thinking.

Allow assessment of non-academic goals, such as dropout prevention, as part of Chapter 1 evaluations.

Allow states to set minimum standards for evaluating the success of local programs, and to make evaluation standards more comprehensive than the federal requirements.

Set time limits for implementation of program-improvement plans.

Other sections of the regulations would make it easier for districts to spend Chapter 1 money on schoolwide projects; establish concentration grants aimed at districts with especially intense concentrations of poor students; and tighten comparability requirements, which mandate that districts devote roughly equal amounts of local resources to Chapter 1-eligible schools and to other schools. States would be allowed to set additional comparability requirements.

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