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New Title I Rules Focus on Standards and Assessment

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Washington

States and school districts would be required to adopt academic standards and new assessments in order to take part in Title I, but they would have more latitude than ever before in administering the program, under proposed rules issued last week by the Education Department.

Many of the proposals for the federal compensatory-education program, published in the May 1 Federal Register, track the outcome of a so-called negotiated-rulemaking session held earlier this year. (See Education Week, 2/1/95.)

"What's behind the entire law is high-quality standards and aligned assessments and high expectations for all students," Thomas W. Payzant, the department's assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, said in an interview.

But some observers said the regulations may do little to move Title I away from a pullout program focused on low-level skills toward one based on challenging academic standards--a key aim of changes made to the program last year as part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

"My fear is if these regulations stand, Title I is going to continue to be a remedial-reading and-math program," said Phyllis McClure, a member of the Title I Reform Network and a longtime observer of the program. "It is hard to turn around this 30-year-old beast."

The network consists of members of the steering committee for the Independent Commission on Chapter 1, a group of researchers and child advocates formed to recommend changes in the program, which reverted to the name Title I in the 1994 reauthorization. The group proposed requiring a series of challenging assessments to spur student improvement, sanctions for schools that do not show improvement, and use of the Title I program to move toward financial equity among districts. (See Education Week, 12/16/92.)

Accountability

The new E.S.E.A. requires that states submit to the Education Department a state improvement plan that includes the adoption of challenging content standards and aligned assessments for Title I students.

The law says that if states have already devised such standards and assessments for all students, they shall use them as part of their plans. If states have not yet adopted standards and assessments, the law says, their plans must include them for at least mathematics and reading.

The proposed regulations would require states that have developed standards and assessments in other subjects to include Title I students in that testing, but schools and districts would only be held accountable under Title I for student improvement in math and reading.

Mr. Payzant said Congress never intended for schools and districts to be held accountable in all content areas, since Title I primarily pays for reading and math instruction.

But Ms. McClure said the decision not to impose accountability in other subjects would help "perpetuate the status quo." She said schools and districts would do the bare minimum to comply with the law.

As was the case under the previous version of the law, schools that do not meet improvement standards for "adequate yearly progress" will have to submit improvement plans and will be subject to state oversight.

However, while the old rules set a minimum standard for identifying schools for the program-improvement process, the new law allows states to set that standard. It also specifies sanctions state officials can apply to districts with failing programs.

But the proposed regulations would not provide any additional guidance to help states measure student improvement in schools and districts, although the law requires the Administration to offer such guidance.

"I would have hoped they would have gone beyond the scope [in the proposed regulations] into other areas, but I suspect that will come later in some non-regulatory guidance," said Lou Marsh, Florida's Title I coordinator.

Transitional Assessments

The law does not require new state assessments using multiple measures to be in place until the academic year 2000-2001, and one area the negotiators did not unanimously agree on was what rules should govern the assessments used in the meantime.

The proposed regulations call for transitional assessments that would not need to meet most requirements of the permanent assessments, such as reporting test results for students, schools, districts, and states.

Ms. McClure said that because states may use the transitional assessments for nearly the entire life of the statute, exempting them from certain requirements further undermines efforts to require accountability.

But Mr. Payzant argued that if the rules "put a lot of prescriptive regulations in for transitional assessments, states will use a lot of resources--time and financial" creating those tests at the expense of work on the permanent system.

The new rules also:

  • Would allow schools operating schoolwide programs to commingle funds from some other education programs.
  • Would allow a district to determine a school's eligibility to conduct a schoolwide program with different poverty criteria from those it used to determine the school's overall eligibility for Title I money.

Written comments on the regulations are due by May 31.

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