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Rules Will Allow Districts To Set Title 1 Measures

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School districts would be able to set their own standards for measuring the performance of Title I students under new rules hammered out in recent negotiations.

The regulations would implement changes Congress made when it reauthorized the Title I compensatory-education program and the rest of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act last year. The new law requires that the program help disadvantaged youngsters reach the same high academic standards as other students.

The law required the Education Department to use so-called negotiated rulemaking--in which various parties affected by a new law try to agree on rules to implement it--to address two of the most controversial aspects of the new Title I law: the development of standards and assessments to measure progress, and the ability of schools with large numbers of poor children to create schoolwide projects that are not targeted only to individual students eligible for Title I.

More than 20 people took part in the negotiations here last month, including representatives of federal, state, and local administrators, parents, teachers, school board members, private school educators, and migrants, as well as a testing expert. They reached a consensus on most of the draft language, with a few exceptions.

The department expects to publish the proposed rules for Title I later this month. The rules will include the results of the negotiation, as well as federal officials' proposals for handling issues negotiators could not agree on.

They may also touch on provisions of the law that were not included in the negotiation process. Department officials say they are striving to issue as few new regulations as possible to implement the E.S.E.A., but all proposed Title I rules will be published together.

The agency will publish final rules after a 60-day comment period.

Local Standards

One of the most heated debates centered on whether districts could use their own standards and assessments for students in Title I programs, instead of relying on those developed by their states.

Negotiators worried about creating a patchwork system that would make it impossible to determine whether students across a state were held to the same high level of performance.

By law, states that devise standards and assessments for all children under the Goals 2000: Educate America Act must use the same ones for Title I, insuring that poor children are held to the same standard as others.

But under Goals 2000, states can allow one or more districts to create their own standards and assessments, as long as they are at least as rigorous as the state's. The negotiators agreed that, in those instances, districts should be able to use the same standards and assessments for Title I.

The same flexibility would apply to districts in states that are not participating in Goals 2000, but have statewide standards and assessments and give districts the option of setting equally high standards. Only nine states have not received Goals 2000 planning grants.

Accountability Limits

States that do not intend to set standards for all children are required to set them in at least mathematics and reading for Title I purposes. Districts in those states that wanted to use their own standards and assessments for Title I would have to seek a waiver.

The proposed rules also seek to clarify the accountability provisions of Title I. They specify that assessments must be conducted in at least math and reading/language arts and at some point during grades 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12 to see if students have made "adequate progress." Schools whose students did not make sufficient gains would be targeted for improvement efforts and could be subject to sanctions.

If states adopt statewide standards and assessments in areas other than math and reading, Title I students must be included in those assessments. But the rules would hold schools accountable only for performance in math and reading.

"If, for instance, states had geography standards, then the school would not be accountable, for Title I purposes, for geography," said Mary Jean LeTendre, director of compensatory-education programs. "It would be accountable, for Title I purposes, for reading and math."

States could choose to hold schools accountable in other subjects, in addition to reading and math, she said.

The negotiators also agreed that states and districts must specify when they will create assessments in languages other than English, if they are needed.

Although two negotiators dissented, the rules would specify that districts should not publish disaggregated data--which gives performance results for particular income, racial, gender, or ethnic groups--unless the information is statistically sound. Parent representatives asked for the right to obtain such data upon request.

Negotiators failed to reach a consensus on the requirements for transitional assessments that states can use to evaluate Title I programs for up to five years, before more permanent measures are in place.

One of the chief aims of the new law was to prod states to move away from reliance on norm-referenced, multiple-choice tests and to create richer forms of assessment tied to state standards. The law requires that the new systems use multiple measures that address higher-level skills.

The Education Department was loath to go beyond the language in the statute, which says that the transitional assessments will not have to meet the same requirements as those adopted after the 2000-2001 school year.

But a number of negotiators worried that the proposed rules were too vague and would enable states to use assessments during the interim period that did not meet stringent enough requirements for validity and reliability.

The group did clarify that transitional assessments must be given in at least math and reading and be administered at some time during grades 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12.

Schoolwide Projects

The negotiators made few changes to the department's draft provisions for schoolwide projects, which largely reiterated the law.

Most notably, all negotiators except the National Title I/Chapter 1 Parents Coalition agreed to allow schools to commingle funds and services under Title I and many other federal education programs, as long as the intent and purposes of those programs were met. The department plans to publish a list this month of programs that may be included in schoolwide projects.

The law made it clear that money under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act cannot be combined in this fashion. The regulations will specify that schoolwide programs must still develop individualized education plans for students who are served under the I.D.E.A. Schoolwide projects would also draw up plans for students who had fallen seriously behind, but such plans would not have to resemble I.E.P.'s.

Negotiators persuaded department officials to add provisions requiring schools to document how the needs of migrant children had been addressed in schoolwide programs. The proposed rules would also clarify that schools that combined money from different federal programs must still meet the requirements for serving private school children.

Under the rules, the poverty measures districts used to qualify schools for schoolwide projects could be different from those they used to decide which schools were eligible for Title I aid in general.

This could enable more middle and high schools to take part in schoolwide programs, because many districts use the number of students receiving free and reduced-price school lunches for this purpose and older students often do not apply for such meals.

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