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In Chapter 1 Reviews, 9 Percent of Schools Failed to Meet Student-Achievement Goals

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By Julie A. Miller

Washington--About 9 percent of all Chapter 1 compensatory-education programs last year failed to meet student-achievement standards required under a new federal law and have been targeted for improvement efforts, surveys by the Education Department and a Congressional committee have found.

According to the studies, a majority of states and school districts have set the lowest possible standard, and have targeted only those programs in which average student achievement has remained stagnant or declined. Moreover, the proportion of programs slated for improvement varies widely from state to state.

"I truly hope more of them will have the courage to set higher standards," said Mary Jean LeTendre, the Education Department's director of compensatory-education programs. "Being identified for program improvement should be seen as an opportunity, not a stigma."

Ms. LeTendre predicted that states and districts will raise standards for their Chapter 1 programs as they grow more comfortable with the new federal requirements, and at least a handful of state and local officials agree.

"It's no big secret that we didn't have time to establish realistic standards" this year, noted Jerome Guilford, who directs Chapter 1 efforts in Toledo, Ohio. He praised the process as a catalyst that has forced educators "to look at real-life information."

The passage of the Hawkins-Stafford Elementary and Secondary School Improvement Amendments of 1988 was a major turning point in the 25-year history of the Chapter 1 program, which had never before required state and local officials to assess and report on the progress of their disadvantaged pupils.

Under the law, targeted schools must draft and implement remedial plans for their Chapter 1 programs by this fall. State education officials are required to offer such schools technical assistance.

The federal law also authorizes states to oversee the creation of new improvement plans in those schools that fail to raise student test scores by the spring of 1991.

The Education Department does not have definitive statistics on program-improvement efforts at the local level because the new law delegated monitoring responsibilities to the states.

The department estimates that about 4,400 Chapter 1 programs have been targeted, based on 19 on-site reviews of state programs and telephone interviews with officials in other states, Puerto Rico, and schools operated by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.

According to the department's analysis, there are 52,000 Chapter 1 sites in the states that have identified schools for improvement thus far.

The b.i.a., Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and South Carolina had not identified programs needing improvement by last fall as required by the law, Ms. LeTendre said.

A similar survey of 42 states by the House Education and Labor Committee found that about 3,500 schools, or 9 percent, have been targeted.

The percentage of schools targeted varies tremendously among the states, ranging from 0.31 percent in New Hampshire to 38 percent in Delaware, according to the e.d. survey.

The range, however, may be even broader than that. Ronald E. Friend, chief of the Maryland education department's compensatory-education branch, said 51 percent of his state's 435 Chapter 1 programs were targeted, a proportion much higher than the preliminary 30 percent figure reported to e.d.

Huge differences also exist among school districts. Officials in Dallas, for example, reported that no schools were targeted, according to Ms. LeTendre, while officials targeted 87 in Baltimore and 94 in Detroit.

A primary reason for the disparities is that states and school districts were not held to the same standard, officials suggest.

Federal regulations issued by the Education Department required improvements in schools showing "no gain" in student test scores. The rules, however, left states, districts, and in8dividual schools free to set higher goals and additional standards that are not measured by tests.

The testing standard is expressed in terms of "normal curve equivalents," a scale that can be applied to results from a variety of standardized tests. The standard was designed to measure gains made by Chapter 1 students above what would have been expected in the absence of the remedial program.

"No gain" is expressed as zero nce's; to meet the minimum standard, a school would need an average student gain that is higher than zero.

The average student nationally gains almost three nce's a year on standardized tests, Ms. LeTendre noted.

She said 13 states reported setting a standard of one nce, while the others used the no-gain standard.

Although the difference may seem small, officials said, it could result in the identification of many more schools for improvement.

No states reported setting a standard higher than one nce, but Maryland plans to raise its standard to two nce's over the next two years.

The survey by the Education and Labor Committee found that three states planned to target only those Chapter 1 programs in which student achievement declined--a clear violation of the no-gain standard.

Ms. LeTendre said some state officials may have held "mistaken impressions" of the federal requirement in the fall, but she "assumes" they heeded her advice to adopt the minimum standard. Neither she nor a committee aide would identify the three states.

Anecdotal evidence indicates that many districts have set higher standards on their own, according to Ms. LeTendre and state and local Chapter 1 directors interviewed last week.

In Maryland, for example, Baltimore officials used a standard of two nce's, targeting 87 of its 118 Chapter 1 programs. Officials in Prince George's County set a goal of three nce's, and targeted 48 of their 59 schools.

The number of programs identified by a district does not necessarily reflect the quality of education in the system, Ms. LeTendre and others noted.

For example, just one low-scoring student could trigger the targeting of a small Chapter 1 program, said Katherine Manning, a consultant helping Maine schools to implement program-improvement plans.

"We have a lot of small schools with a few Chapter 1 kids," she said. "We have a lot of districts with one school."

A similar situation occurred in Toledo, where only one private-school program was identified in need of improvement, said Mr. Guildford.

"A slow learner got in the program" when he should have been placed in special education, he said.

Ms. LeTendre and state officials predict that more schools will be identified for improvement in coming years.

Beginning this year, schools must test students for advanced as well as basic skills. They also must begin comparing students' scores in either the fall or spring to their scores at the same time the following year, rather than comparing results from the fall and spring of the same year as many do now. The latter method in some cases yields higher test-score gains.

In addition, Ms. LeTendre said, states and districts may raise their standards once they become more accustomed to the new law.

Mr. Guilford predicted that that would certainly be the case in Ohio, where he believes the minimum standard was applied in all districts, resulting in only 1.3 percent of Chapter 1 programs being targeted. Toledo will raise its standard significantly this year, he said, setting goals as high as six nce's for some programs.

Officials in some Maryland districts "are saying 'Oh, great, we're in program improvement, let's make things better;' while others are saying, 'Oh, no, I've been targeted,"' said Mr. Friend.

"I look at it as an opportunity. It gets people thinking and asking for help," he said.

Commenting on the surveys' other findings, Ms. LeTendre said she was disappointed to learn that only 120 districts in 19 states are taking advantage of new rules allowing them to set aside 5 percent of their Chapter 1 funds for "innovative" projects, such as increasing parent involvement, improving teacher training, or maintaining the progress of students no longer eligible for services.

Both surveys also found that a change in the law lowering the percentage of poor students required to enable a school to use Chapter 1 aid to improve its entire school program has approximately tripled the number of schools doing so.

The Education and Labor Committee estimated that the number rose from 180 in 1988 to 664 in 1989 in the 48 states that responded to its survey.

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