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Chapter 1, Early-Years Reforms at Odds, Group Says

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Alarmed that some Chapter 1 practices are impeding early-childhood-education reforms, a group of early-childhood experts has called for changes in the way children are selected, tested, and taught in the federal remedial-education program.

The National Association of Early-Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education proposed the changes in a position paper released last week.

The association was among the first to sound the alarm in the late 1980's about the danger of overly academic approaches and the misuse of testing, retention, and grouping practices in the early grades.

Its latest position paper suggests that some Chapter 1 practices--such as standardized tests and "pullout" classes--conflict with states' efforts to rethink the way they teach and assess young children.

The paper was sent last week to federal Chapter 1 officials, state Chapter 1 directors, chief state school officers, and heads of key advocacy groups and associations.

While some school districts have used Chapter 1 to serve pre-kindergarten and early-primary children, the group points out, the program has been used chiefly for remedial reading and math programs in the later primary and elementary grades.

With state budgets tightening and evidence of the benefits of early schooling mounting, however, the group notes, Chapter 1 funds are likely to be tapped more heavily to launch or expand state and local early-childhood programs. (See Education Week, May 22, 1991.)

But, it argues, "since Chapter 1 was not originally conceived as aprogram for young children, some of its practices are in conflict with what is widely accepted as beneficial practice in the early years."

The paper compliments the U.S. Education Department for its recent moves to foster greater collaboration among, and increased flexibility in, programs for young children.

The agency has been working with the Department of Health and Human Services to promote better coordination of Head Start and Chapter 1 to ease the transition between preschool and elementary school.

The Education Department also recently held three meetings to encourage state and local program officials to tap Chapter 1 for early-years programs and to clear up confusion on pupil selection and assessment.

Department officials maintain that inappropriate practices linked with Chapter 1 are often a function of misinterpretation or longstanding practice in serving older children.

"I'm concerned that all of this is laid at the doorstep of Chapter 1," Mary Jean LeTendre, the department's director of compensatory-education programs, said last week.

But she added that "we're in absolute agreement that we all must move toward developmentally appropriate assessment" and cited efforts by the department to promote such practices in the early grades.

But the n.a.e.cs.-s.d.e. says "further regulatory and operational changes are needed" to assure that Chapter 1 programs "provide the greatest possible benefit to children and contribute to the achievement of the national goals for education."

The first of six goals adopted by President Bush and the nation's governors last year was to ensure all children enter school ready to learn.

The paper suggests that standardized testing required under Chapter 1 is hindering states as they move toward "more instructionally informative means of monitoring children's progress in the early years."

It notes that Chapter 1 regulations "do appear to permit the use of more flexible criteria" both for selecting children and evaluating Chapter 1 programs prior to the 2nd grade.

But, the group points out, "most schools persist in their dependence on standardized norm-referenced tests for both the selection of children and for program evaluation" as a way to reduce total testing time.

Such tests, it adds, may "drive not only the Chapter 1 services, but have a negative effect on the entire kindergarten and primary program."

It also says the requirement that districts use Chapter 1 funds as a supplement to their regular education programs has led most schools to serve Chapter 1 children in separate classes, denying them the "positive effects of heterogeneous grouping."

Even when pupils are not pulled out of regular classes, the paper adds, the requirement that Chapter 1 teachers work with Chapter 1 students "precludes cooperative-learning activities and continues the detri4mental practice of ability grouping."

The group suggests several ways that the 1993 reauthorization of Chapter 1 could make it more responsive to young children, including:

Dropping standardized-testing requirements prior to the 4th grade and replacing them with more observation-based documentation.

Broadening program evaluations to address "the totality of children's development" and such factors as adult-child ratios, staff training, and parent involvement.

Requiring states, districts, and schools receiving Chapter 1 aid to formulate plans for serving young children in special populations.

Encouraging alternatives to pullout programs, such as team-teaching arrangements in which regular and Chapter 1 teachers work interchangeably with all children.

Permitting the blending of federal, state, and local funds for pre-kindergarten programs to discourage segregated programs for disadvantaged preschoolers while encouraging full-day services.

Copies of the paper, "Chapter 1 Services and Early Childhood Education: Problem or Promise," are available from state early-childhood consultants or by writing to the n.a.e.c.s.-s.d.e.'s president, Chalmer Moore Jr., Illinois Board of Education, 100 North First St., S-100, Springfield, Ill. 62777.

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