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Published in Print: January 15, 2003, as Ed. Dept. OKs First Accountability Plans

Ed. Dept. OKs First Accountability Plans

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President Bush used a White House ceremony last week marking the first anniversary of the "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001 to announce that five states have received final approval for their plans to meet the law's strict accountability provisions. Those states are Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, Massachusetts, and New York.

But the bipartisan spirit that marked the president's signing of the measure a year ago has dampened noticeably since. Flanked by first lady Laura Bush, Secretary of Education Rod Paige, and eight public school principals from around the country—but no Democratic lawmakers—Mr. Bush defended the law and his administration's funding of it.

"The priorities of the No Child Left Behind Act will be reflected in the budgets I submit, as long as I'm working here," he said at the Jan. 8 event. "This issue is not just about money," the president added. "We must make sure we continue to insist upon results for the money we spend."

Criticism From Democrats

A few hours earlier, Democrats on Capitol Hill held an education event of their own, a press conference in which they excoriated the administration for what they said was its failure to adequately finance the law, an overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

That same day, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., two key architects of the legislation, released a joint letter to Secretary Paige calling for increased funding. More than 40 Senate Democrats signed a similar letter sent to Mr. Bush.

The only congressional leader present at the White House event was Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., the incoming chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and a top Republican sponsor of the law.

Rep. Miller's chief of staff, Daniel Weiss, said his boss was busy that day. But he added that Mr. Miller "also has serious concerns about the way in which the administration is treating the law."

"He does not believe that now is the time for a cheerleading event," the aide said. "We are one year into a 12-year goal. And we don't have the resources that were promised for even the first year."

Under the law, schools must make steady gains in the percent of students who score at the "proficient" level on state reading and math tests, so that all students perform at state-defined proficiency levels by 2013-14. Schools receiving federal Title I money that fail to make "adequate yearly progress," or AYP, for two or more years in a row are subject to a range of increasingly severe penalties.

Some state officials and measurement experts have charged that the requirements could result in the labeling of large numbers of schools as failing, often for statistical rather than educational reasons.

To make adequate progress, schools must meet annual targets both for their student population as a whole and for specific subgroups of students.

A crucial question has been how much flexibility federal officials would grant states in meshing the federal requirements with existing state accountability plans.

President Bush commended the five states whose accountability plans won approval "for showing what is possible. ... Their plans are rigorous and their plans are innovative."

Jan. 31 Deadline

Three of the five states—Colorado, Indiana, and Massachusetts—participated in a pilot process for reviewing state accountability plans early last fall. All states must submit their plans to the U.S. Department of Education by the end of this month to receive final approval no later than May 1. By Jan. 8, two additional states had submitted their plans, but federal officials declined to name them.

At a separate event at the Education Department, also held on Wednesday of last week to celebrate the law's anniversary, Secretary Paige said: "Our role here in Washington is not to dictate. Our role is to set clear goals and hold local states accountable for achieving them."

The five states' plans, which were available on the department's Web site late last week, are notable for their variety. Indiana, for instance, will retain its core rating system, but schools will not be able to earn its highest ratings if they fail to meet separate AYP targets in reading and mathematics. "It really more fully informs our system, makes it richer," said Jeffrey Zearing, the chief of staff for Commissioner of Education Suellen Reed. "But we let our system drive it."

Massachusetts rates its schools biennially, but has agreed to provide AYP determinations every year. One place federal officials granted the state some flexibility was in its identification of schools failing to make adequate progress.

The state has devised an individual trajectory for each school showing the annual gains the school must make to reach the 2013-14 goal. Schools that fail to make their AYP targets but remain on their trajectories will be considered to have made adequate progress, said state Commissioner David P. Driscoll, as long as those results correlate with a "safe harbor" provision in the federal law. "We had to go back and forth on that," he said.

Richard P. Mills, New York state superintendent, said there were about a dozen policy decisions the state needed to make to comply with the law. The state will measure adequate progress using performance indices which give schools credit for the percent of students who score at proficient and basic proficiency levels.

"That took a lot of explaining, describing, showing examples," said Mr. Mills.

Now the question is whether federal officials will show similar flexibility with other state plans. The department has released some basic principles that all accountability plans must meet.

Of the five states with approved plans, four—Colorado, Ohio, Massachusetts, and New York—have Republican governors. Indiana has a Democratic governor and an elected Republican schools chief.

Susan Tave Zelman, the state superintendent of Ohio, said, "I thought we would get out there first, and at least our districts would know what the rules of the game are, and it would give them more time for implementation. We saw that as a real plus."

Vol. 22, Issue 18, Pages 1,23

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