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New Study of Title I Will Examine Program Under States' Standards

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The Department of Education has awarded a contract for a major new evaluation of the Title I compensatory education program.

The study will examine how the standards-based reforms of Title I that were enacted when the program was reauthorized in 1994 contribute to improvements in student learning, instructional practice, and school performance.

At a time of increasing pressure on government programs to demonstrate effectiveness, the results of the $8.8 million study mandated by Congress could have a big impact on the continued health of the flagship federal program designed to help educate poor children. The program, with a budget of $7.2 billion for fiscal 1997, serves about 7 million children.

"People want to see whether or not some of the changes we made in the last reauthorization, which many of us think are pivotal, are having any effect," said Sara Davis, a Democratic aide to the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee. "People think things can go either way on Title I given what this study says. We here in Congress can't claim we're helping kids when we're not."

Republicans have already expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of Title I, which provides grants to school districts for remedial mathematics and reading instruction.

They have pointed to preliminary data from "Prospects," the first-ever nationally representative longitudinal study of Title I, which indicated that the program has done little to improve the educational performance of the disadvantaged students it serves.

Final data from Prospects, which tracked the progress of three age cohorts of Title I students in some 400 schools, is scheduled for release in January.

Study Parameters

But unlike Prospects, the new five-year study by Westat Inc., a consulting firm based in Rockville, Md., will focus on the overall effectiveness of school reforms rather than individual student achievement.

The evaluation will cover five states, including four that have worked to link standards, curriculum frameworks, and assessments. The fifth state will be chosen because its demographic and economic characteristics are similar to those of the other four.

Eighty schools will be studied from among the five states. While the schools will be primarily urban, the study will include rural schools.

Beginning next fall, Westat will spend three years collecting data on 4th grade students. Additional data will be gathered on a sample of 3rd graders over the same span.

Data will come from school records, including grades and attendance; surveys of administrators, students, and teachers; and student-achievement tests given by states as well as "a common standardized test."

Time Crunch

Title I proponents say that while the study may provide some useful data, results may not be available as soon as politicians would like.

"One of the problems we're faced with is the impatience of the body politic to get data and information," said Christopher T. Cross, the executive director of the Washington-based Council for Basic Education and the chairman of the Independent Review Panel on Title I, a group formed after the 1994 reauthorization to monitor implementation of the new Title I program.

Moreover, he said, the fact that the study is smaller in scope than Prospects will mean quicker results at the expense of depth.

"It will not be as complete as one would want," Mr. Cross said.

An interim report is due to Congress in January 1999, with the final report due two years later.

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