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Final Regs on Voc.-Ed. Law Narrow Scope of Local Evaluations

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WASHINGTON--In a reversal of its stance, the Education Department has ruled that states and school districts that accept federal vocational-education aid do not have to evaluate the effectiveness of their entire vocational-education programs.

The long-awaited decision is among the final regulations for the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act, published in the Aug. 14 Federal Register.

The Perkins Act, reauthorized in 1990, requires districts and states to develop "core standards and measures of performance'' for evaluating their vocational-education programs each year.

When the Education Department proposed the rules last year, it said the evaluations should apply to the entire vocational-education curriculum of any school receiving Perkins funds, not just to those activities supported with federal monies. (See Education Week, Oct. 16, 1991.)

'Too Much of a Burden'

At the time, Betsy Brand, the department's assistant secretary for vocational and adult education, said that because federal funds account for less than 10 percent of vocational-education spending across the country, an evaluation based only on federally funded projects would be useless.

"Some of those activities are so discrete, it would be difficult to tell what happens to the kids in the program,'' she argued then.

But department officials changed their minds after receiving more than 800 letters from vocational educators, many of whom complained that they lacked the time and resources to perform such large-scale evaluations.

"We did receive a large number of comments on it,'' Ms. Brand acknowledged recently, "more comments on it than on any other issue. The large bulk of them were opposed to having the entire program evaluated and felt that it would be too much of a burden.''

The change is also in keeping with President Bush's governmentwide deregulation efforts, she said.

The final rules require that recipients of federal funds evaluate only those projects, services, and activities receiving aid under the Perkins Act, unless the state board of education decides that a broader evaluation is needed in order to carry out a "valid, reliable, and otherwise meaningful'' study.

In his comments on the changes, Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander emphasized that there are reasons why states might decide to require such broader evaluations.

"Ultimately, I think, we would like to go'' in that direction, said Ms. Brand.

Supplemental Services

The Perkins Act also abolished earmarked spending for "special needs'' students in favor of funding more general program improvements.

As expected, the final regulations limit the amount of money that districts must spend on supplementary services that disabled and disadvantaged students need to enter vocational-education programs.

The regulations indicate that states must provide such services "only to the extent possible'' based on their federal allocation for such students.

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