States Lagging Behind on Title I Rules, Ed. Dept. Says
Although President Bush has proposed more testing and accountability for schools receiving federal aid under the Title I program for disadvantaged students, two reports released to Congress last week suggest that most states have yet to meet the law's existing requirements in those areas.
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In 1994, Title I was rewritten to ensure that children served by the program would be held to the same academic standards as other students. States had until this school year to devise testing programs that match their academic standards in at least reading and mathematics, include all students, and can be used to hold individual schools and districts responsible for their results.
The law also orders states to design accountability systems by this school year that designate successful Title I schools and districts; identify those needing improvement and provide them with help; and take more aggressive action against schools and districts that fail to improve.
But a report by the Department of Education's planning and evaluation service, "High Standards for All Students: A Report From the National Assessment of Title I," notes that of the 34 states whose testing systems the department had evaluated by mid- January, only 11 have received full approval for meeting Title I requirements.
Six states received conditional approval, meaning they will be in compliance with the law if they change their testing systems to meet Title I rules in time for the next test administration. Fourteen states have received waivers giving them more time to meet the requirements. And three—California, West Virginia, and Wisconsin—must enter into compliance agreements with the department, under which they acknowledge breaking the law and agree to make changes by a specified deadline.
The testing systems for 16 other states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico are still under review, with decisions expected by this spring.
Meanwhile, a separate report by a panel of researchers and practitioners suggests that federally mandated deadlines for states to adopt academic standards, tests, and accountability systems may have led states to focus more on those matters than on the supports needed to help students and teachers meet standards.
That report, "Improving the Odds," was prepared by an independent review panel of 22 researchers, policymakers, and educators Congress created in 1994.
"If you look at the data, it's clear that there has been so much work to do in the earlier stages of implementation of the Title I reforms, particularly when you're talking about the assessment and accountability systems, that there has not been the time to really put all the necessary building blocks in place," said Christopher T. Cross, the chairman of the panel and the president of the Washington-based Council for Basic Education, which advocates high standards for all. "The report tries to spell that out and make it clear why we shouldn't come to a premature judgment based on incomplete information."
The problems encountered in meeting the Title I requirements vary by state, according to the Education Department report. But, in general, states were asked to enter into compliance agreements or were given additional time for the following reasons:
- Thirteen states do not have standards-based tests that meet the Title I directives to assess students at least once at elementary, middle, and high school levels in reading and math. Mr. Bush, in the education plan he unveiled last week, proposes testing in those subjects annually in grades 3-8.
Primarily, the department's report says, the states not meeting the testing mandate do not have a high school test to administer this school year.
In addition, such states as California, West Virginia, and Wisconsin are relying largely on commercially crafted, norm-referenced tests to measure student progress. The tests, which compare students against others in the nation, do not adequately reflect the states' standards.
States also are having difficulty devising "performance standards," that specify what students must do to demonstrate they have mastered the standards at such levels as "basic," "proficient," or "advanced." Six years after the law was passed, the Education Department has approved only 28 states' performance standards.
- Thirteen states are still struggling to include in their testing and accountability programs all students with limited proficiency in English.
- Ten states are having similar problems including students with disabilities.
- Sixteen states are still working to "disaggregate" data so they can report results based on gender, race and ethnicity, English proficiency, disability, and family income.
"Better assessments for instructional and accountability purposes are urgently needed," the independent review panel says in its report. It also calls for federal support for cross-state collaboration.
Help Not There
In addition, most states are still working on the accountability systems they will use to hold Title I schools and districts responsible for student performance, the Education Department report says.
Under the 1994 law, each state had to establish criteria for judging whether Title I schools and districts are making "adequate yearly progress" that enables all their students to meet state standards. States also must report annually on the number of Title I schools identified as low-performing and provide them with help.
The department found that because the law permits each state to create its own accountability system and its own definition of "adequate yearly progress," huge differences in the numbers and percentages of schools identified as low-performing exist across states. In 1998-99, for example, Texas identified only 1 percent of its Title I schools as "in need of improvement," while Michigan identified 76 percent.
Moreover, many schools are unaware that they have been identified as low-performing. One survey found that four in 10 principals of schools identified as needing improvement did not report they had been labeled as such; other schools mistakenly believed they had been identified as needing improvement. And only 40 percent of the schools identified as needing improvement last school year reported receiving additional teacher professional development or other help.
"One of the findings that troubles me is that a lot of schools are being identified as in need of improvement, but they aren't necessarily getting the help that they need," said Stephanie E. Stullich, the director of the National Assessment of Title I, the project within the planning and evaluation service which conducted the new study.
The department's study also found that many states have created "dual accountability systems." More than half use different sets of indicators or performance criteria to either hold Title I and non-Title I schools, or only Title I schools, accountable.
"It's not a compliance issue," said Ms. Stullich, who pointed out that the law does not require the same accountability system for Title I and non-Title I schools, although that may have been the intent. "It's an education issue.
"It's really difficult for schools, for districts, for states to implement effective accountability systems," she continued, "when you have two sets of accountability provisions, and people are confused about which set of accountability provisions they fall under and what the requirements are."
Vol. 20, Issue 20, Pages 20,22