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Change May Be Too Slow To Aid Title I, Experts Say

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Washington

Changes made in the Title I compensatory-education program in 1994 present long-term opportunities to improve student performance and the way it is measured, educators and researchers told a Senate hearing last week.

But the changes are unlikely to yield quick results, they said, and will be difficult and time-consuming to implement, complicating immediate assessments of the program's effectiveness at a time when it is the target of increasing criticism on Capitol Hill.

"There are several major challenges" posed by new accountability and assessment rules, said Edward D. Roeber, the director of student-assessment programs for the Council of Chief State School Officers. "These issues are important, but not insurmountable."

Sen. James M. Jeffords, R-Vt., who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Education, Arts, and Humanities, said he called the hearing because Title I is vulnerable on Capitol Hill.

"The first thing is that we have to establish credibility that Title I does something," he said in an interview.

A fiscal 1996 appropriations bill approved by the House would cut Title I spending by $1.1 billion from the 1995 amount of $6.6 billion. A pending Senate bill proposes a cut of $679 million.

Series of Challenges

Mary-Elizabeth Beach, the Title I coordinator in Washington state and the president of the National Association of State Coordinators of Compensatory Education, said the new assessment system called for in the 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act can help the poor children targeted by Title I achieve at higher levels than under the old Chapter 1 law.

"The most important part of the new assessment is that it will drive instruction," Ms. Beach said.

But Mr. Roeber noted that what each state will do to implement the new law is largely unknown, although it went into effect in July.

The law gives states considerable flexibility to establish performance standards and accompanying assessments, and the process does not have to be complete until 1999.

"There is no typical assessment program," Mr. Roeber said, "and that is one of our challenges."

Moreover, Mr. Roeber pointed out, some states are moving away from enacting reforms based on content standards due to "recent political changes and a lack of resources."

Christopher T. Cross, the president of the Council for Basic Education and the chairman of the independent review panel for the National Assessment of Title I, reiterated researchers' concern that Congress may not appropriate enough money to carry out the ambitious evaluation agenda federal officials unveiled last month. (See Education Week, Feb. 21, 1995.)

Mr. Jeffords replied, "We'll do what we can."

New Report

Meanwhile, in a report released last month, the Congressional Research Service suggests that the 1994 Title I amendments might not be adequate "to address the needs of some of the most disadvantaged pupils."

The report, "Title I, Education for the Disadvantaged: Perspectives on Studies of Its Achievement Effects," notes that while the changes allowed more schools to operate schoolwide programs and permitted the use of Title I money to coordinate education with other social services, research has not shown that such policies result in better achievement.

The report suggests three options to lawmakers for improving the achievement of Title I students in high-poverty areas:

  • Offering "alternatives to Title I as currently conceived," such as giving Title I students access to charter schools, residential schools, and school-choice programs;
  • Funding comprehensive approaches that provide education, housing, welfare, safety, health care, and employment services under one umbrella; or
  • Dramatically increasing federal financial support and technical assistance for high-poverty schools.

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