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Published in Print: April 7, 1999, as Urban Schools Cite Higher Test Scores in Defense of Title I

Urban Schools Cite Higher Test Scores in Defense of Title I

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A trend toward rising test scores in urban schools suggests that changes made five years ago to the federal Title I program are bearing fruit and should be preserved, argues a report based on a survey of big-city districts.

The survey by the Council of the Great City Schools sought to gauge the impact of Congress' 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which retooled Title I to emphasize higher academic standards and grant districts more flexibility in spending program funds.

With Congress gearing up to reauthorize the ESEA this year, the Washington-based council pointed to the urban achievement gains it found as evidence that the revamped Title I program may need fine-tuning, but not the total overhaul that some critics advocate.

For More Information

"Reform and Results: An Analysis of Title I in the Great City Schools, 1994-95 to 1997-98" is available at: www.cgcs.org/reports/reform.htm.

"Acknowledging progress while finding ways to accelerate it ought to be the direction of the coming Title I reauthorization rather than pursuing a different track," the report states.

In addition to test data, the study reports on such topics as the extent of participation in the $8 billion program for disadvantaged students and urban districts' views on the best way to use their share of the money.

The study follows a March 1 report by the U.S. Department of Education that also cited rising test scores--although on different tests and among a different sample of students--to bolster arguments that the Title I revisions are proving effective. Critics challenged that assessment as unproven and premature. ("Title I Study Finds 'Promising' Student Gains," March 10, 1999.)

Trend Points Up

The council collected test data from two dozen of its 54 member districts. The analysis looked only at scores for students whose schools were taking part in schoolwide Title I programs and for youngsters who indivi- dually received services under the program.

Overall, 21 of the districts reported improvements in reading scores, and 20 reported gains in mathematics.

"It's a clear trend line," said Michael D. Casserly, the council's executive director.

The scores came from norm-referenced tests given in grades 4 and 8 in 19 districts and from criterion-referenced tests in grades 3 and 7 in five more.

"Performance levels continue to be low in reading and math even after three years, but the improvement is steady and substantial," the report concludes.

Jay A. Diskey, a spokesman for the Republican majority on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, questioned the report's conclusion that only minor changes in Title I are advisable.

"We're not going to quibble with progress," he said. "But is the sort of progress cited in that report enough to say the status quo is fine? Shouldn't we be aiming for something higher?"

Still, Mr. Diskey said the committee's chairman, Rep. Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, had "no concrete or preconceived notion of where we might want to go."

"What Chairman Goodling would like is a real thorough and honest look at Title I to see how it can be made a better program," he said.

Vol. 18, Issue 30, Page 25

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