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Final Chapter 1 Rules Ask the States To Set 'Standards' on Pupil Progress

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Washington--The Education Department has issued long-awaited final regulations for the Chapter 1 compensatory-education program that provide some protections for local autonomy, while still giving states substantial authority over local programs.

Groups representing state and local officials expressed satisfaction with the compromise last week. But advocates for parent groups said they were considering a lawsuit over aspects of the rules that they contend violate the 1988 reauthorization law the regulations were designed to implement.

The final rules, published in the May 19 Federal Register, include many substantive changes from the proposed regulations issued in October. The most significant alterations involve controversial new program-improvement requirements.

The core dispute, which first arose during Congressional debate on the reauthorization measure, is how much authority state officials will have to intervene in local programs.

The statute requires school districts to assess their Chapter 1 programs annually and draft "improvement plans" for those programs that do not show sufficient gains in student achievement. State education agencies are required to provide technical assistance to districts. The states also have the authority to help develop, and to approve, further improvement plans for Chapter 1 programs that still do not register satisfactory progress after the local plan has been in effect for one year.

Local Objections

Organizations representing teachers, administrators, and school-board members were opposed to provisions--backed by state officials and child-welfare advocates--giving states authority over local programs. As a result of their efforts, the final text of the reauthorization law gave substantially less power to the states than did some earlier versions of the legislation.

The local groups objected again when the proposed regulations empowered states to set "minimum standards" by which local Chapter 1 programs would be measured, and to mandate evaluation of participating students' achievement in subject areas, such as history, writing, and science, that extend beyond Chapter 1 instruction. (See Education Week, Jan. 11, 1989.)

The final regulations drop the testing authority, and instead require districts to review Chapter 1 students' progress in the regular school program as part of their annual assessment, using whatever "appropriate indicators of success" they choose.

The Education Department also required states to convene "committees of practitioners" to review all state rules and regulations for4Chapter 1--not just emergency rules, as provided in the proposed regulations.

Other changes that respond to local officials' concerns lighten some reporting requirements and give state and local officials an additional year to implement joint improvement plans. The department agreed that they needed more than a summer break to do so, but required that parts of the plans be implemented "as soon as possible."

But states will retain the power to set both general regulations for the Chapter 1 program and standards for measuring program success.

Excising the 'Minimum'

The word "minimum" was removed from the regulations, because department officials feared both that state standards would become arbitrary cutoff points for the determination of success or failure, and that districts would not strive to meet higher standards.

"We heard from individuals and groups that the word 'minimum' would drive down expectations," Mary Jean LeTendre, director of compensatory-education programs for the department, said in an interview last week.

Many observers said they are unsure about the impact of that change.

"I don't know what it means," said Bruce Hunter, an associate executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. "It will be four years before we really know what it means, when there is a joint plan and a state intervenes."

"Regulations can describe a process, but not what will ultimately happen," he said. "We won't know that until we see what the states do."

Other key provisions of the regulations set federal guidelines for the evaluation processes to be used by state and local officials.

Evaluation Processes

The statute requires districts to set "desired outcomes," or goals, for their Chapter 1 programs and to base their annual assessments--and their program-improvement decisions--on those goals and on "objective" national standards set by departmental regulations.

Districts are required to draft improvement plans for schools that do not show "substantial progress" toward their stated goals, or that show no improvement or a decline for a full school year when assessed under national standards based on norm-referenced tests.

The regulations state that "no improvement or a decline" is found to occur if Chapter 1 students "fail to make gains beyond that which they would be expected to make in the absence of the additional help the program provided."

In addition to retaining that definition, the final regulations specify that districts' "desired outcomes" must include, at a minimum, the same "no improvement or a decline" yardstick cited in the national standards. Districts also are encouraged to set higher or different goals, such as increased test performance, decreased dropout rates, or improved attendance.

The final rules also say districts need consider test scores only in subjects covered by the Chapter 1 curriculum when making program-improvement decisions.

In its notice, ed says the "no decline" standard is included in the statute, and that it had to choose measurements that would yield an effective national database, would work in all school districts, and would comply with the statutory ban on being "unduly burdensome."

Ms. LeTendre agreed with critics that the standard is too low.

"That's an appropriate dissatisfaction," she said. "We hope that having to go before the school board and the state creates an environment that compels the addition of more ambitious goals."

Most Groups Pleased

The Register notice says department officials tried to "balance the concerns of states, local school officials, and the various interest groups against the statutory purposes for the program and the needs of the children to be served."

They appear to have succeeded in satisfying most, but not all, factions.

"There are a lot of things we are pleased with," said Sally Potter, a governmental-relations specialist for the National Education Association. "It's a big improvement, though we still think setting standards should be a local function and not something states should impose.''

Other lobbyists representing teachers and administrators made similar comments, reserving the most praise for the department's decisions on subject-area testing and the committees of practitioners.

"There were few surprises, and we think it's very workable over all," said Carnie Hayes, governmental-relations director for the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Advocates for parent organizations submitted the most critical comments on the proposed regulations, and were also the most dissatisfied with the final version.

"Some sections are flagrantly anathema to the intent of the law," said Arnold Fege, a legislative specialist for the National Congress of Parents and Teachers. "Ultimately, the possibility of a lawsuit has not been ruled out."

"They've done very little to correct some very substantial problems with the proposed regulations," agreed Paul Weckstein, a lawyer representing the National Coalition of Title I/Chapter 1 Parents.

Mr. Weckstein and Mr. Fege argue that the progress of Chapter 1 students should be measured in terms of whether they have closed the achievement gap that separates them from other students, not against the gains they would have made without additional help.

They note that the statute calls for setting "desired outcomes" based on "skills all students are expected to master."

They also argue that the national standards rely too much on standardized tests, which they say cannot adequately measure mastery of crucial skills. State and local officials will not set additional standards, the lobbyists predict.

"Even the other possibilities they mention, like dropout rates, are far different from mastery," Mr. Weckstein said.

Mr. Weckstein also criticized the relaxation of program-improvement timelines, which he said "were too relaxed to begin with."

"We're now looking at a five-year process before the state steps in to actually do something," he said.

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