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Published in Print: February 18, 2004, as Department Sets Timing for Accountability Plans

Department Sets Timing for Accountability Plans

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For months, states have been asking federal officials for more guidance about how to make changes in their accountability plans under the No Child Left Behind Act. This month, they got an answer.

Raymond J. Simon

In a Feb. 6 letter to state schools chiefs, Raymond J. Simon, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, said states interested in altering their plans must submit their proposals to the Department of Education no later than April 1 for changes that would affect results from tests given during the current school year.

The deadline is meant to prevent any delay in determining which schools have met their annual performance targets under the federal law. States are supposed to identify schools that did not make "adequate yearly progress," or AYP, and those in need of improvement before the beginning of each school year.

"While initially the department's policy provided an open-ended process to provide states maximum flexibility to address their individual timelines," Mr. Simon wrote, "many states have requested a more structured approach" to revising their accountability plans.

He pledged that the department would "make every effort" to respond to any requests within 30 days.

Patricia L. Sullivan, a deputy executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, said superintendents she spoke with last week were generally pleased that the department had responded to their request.

"I think it's an important signal from the [Bush] administration that they are serious about working with states," she said, noting that about six states already have amended their plans. "We were also pleased with the time frame in it—that there's some sort of a deadline both for states and for the administration."

According to Mr. Simon's letter, if the department finds the changes proposed by a state comply with federal law and regulations, the state will have to electronically submit an amended accountability "workbook" to the department. States submitted their original workbooks to the federal government last year, detailing how they planned to comply with the law, a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. States must note the date of submission and the amended items on the cover page.

After an amended workbook is received, the Education Department will notify the state that its request has been approved and will post the amended workbook on the federal agency's Web site.

"Please note that the department must approve a state's amendment to its accountability plan prior to a state implementing that amendment," Mr. Simon wrote.

1 Percent Rule

In the letter, Mr. Simon also noted that some states would have to revise their plans based on final regulations issued by the department in December about the use of alternate assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. The regulation, which took effect Jan. 8, will guide how states make AYP decisions based on test data beginning this school year.

The rules permit states to count "proficient" scores on alternate assessments that are pegged to other than a grade-level standard as "proficient" when calculating adequate progress, as long as the number of those scores does not exceed 1 percent of all students in the grades tested. ("Long-Awaited Spec. Ed. Testing Rules Issued," Jan. 7, 2004.)

Last week, officials from the department and the White House took part in a conference call with states about the process for seeking a waiver to go above the 1 percent cap, which has been a concern in some states. The department is expected to release more guidance on the topic shortly.

Ronald A. Peiffer, an assistant state superintendent in Maryland, said the proposed timelines generally would not be an issue for Maryland. But he noted that in a Dec. 30 letter to David Dunn, a special assistant to President Bush, the state chiefs had requested some additional flexibility under the law.

"They need to make some decisions on some of that before we submit our changes," he said. "In that respect, April 1 may not be that far off."

Vol. 23, Issue 23, Pages 36,41

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