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June 04, 2013 4 min read
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| NEWS | Learning the Language

Federal ELL Clearinghouse Remains in Limbo

The U.S. Department of Education’s process to find a new contractor to manage the National Clearinghouse for English-Language Acquisition seems to be one without end.

For the second time in six months, a protest of the department’s contracting process has prompted agency officials to say they will hold a “do over” of sorts in the competition to award a $1.5 million contract for the clearinghouse, known best as NCELA. So, NCELA won’t likely have a new contractor overseeing its operations until well into the summer.

A spokesman for the Education Department did not respond to a request for a fuller explanation.

The clearinghouse—which has been managed by researchers and consultants at George Washington University for years—was created by Congress to be the go-to source on language instruction, research, and data related to English- learners. Ells are the fastest-growing group of students in public schools.

But for almost a year, the status of the clearinghouse has been in limbo, since the department declined to re-up the NCELA contract with George Washington University and opened a new competition for interested bidders. The department’s process has been protested four times by the Washington-based edCount, which provides advisory services to education agencies and practitioners.

After the department awarded the NCELA contract to Leed Management Consulting, a small business in Silver Spring, Md., edCount filed a protest with the U.S. Government Accountability Office, saying it had been wrongfully excluded from consideration. That GAO protest prompted the first pledge from department officials to take “corrective action” and review the entire contracting process. In April, edCount learned once again that it would not be considered as an awardee for the contract. The company filed another protest with the GAO, saying the Education Department had wrongfully shut it out.

The department says it will again look at whether any bidders were wrongly excluded from the competition.

As I reported late last year, some researchers, advocates, and ell administrators in states view the bungled ncela contracting process as symptomatic of the Education Department’s lack of focus on and attention to the unique needs of English-learners. —Lesli A. Maxwell

| NEWS | Curriculum Matters

Most States Have Confirmed Cheating on Tests, GAO Says

A new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office has found that most states have looked into allegations of cheating by school officials on state tests in the past two years.

The study, released last month, found that 33 states confirmed at least one such case of cheating, and 32 reported invalidating test scores because of cheating.

The report was prompted by several high-profile cases of cheating on tests, such as the recent one in Atlanta. The federal government has an interest in the security and validity of state test results because it helps fund the development of tests used for federal accountability. The GAO report says the U.S. Department of Education has funneled $2 billion toward such projects since 2002.

Using the best practices outlined in a 2010 report by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Association of Test Publishers, the GAO designed a Web-based survey asking states which of those practices they use in their state assessment programs. All 50 states and the District of Columbia responded.

Most of the report focuses on how widely the “best practices” in assessment are being used in the states. But the extent of cheating allegations that it found is noteworthy in light of cheating scandals in Atlanta and elsewhere.

The study also notes the incentives to cheat that could flow from linking tests to honors or recognition. In 24 states, test results are linked to teacher evaluations and/or special rewards or recognitions for schools that improve test scores, the study says. In nine states, results are linked to educators’ promotions, it says.

All 50 states reported feeling vulnerable to cheating during their tests, 47 reported feeling vulnerable after the test is given, and 40 said they feared cheating in the period leading up to the test. —Catherine Gewertz

| NEWS | Politics K-12

Is Participation by Districts In Race to the Top Waning?

With last month’s decision by the Christina school district in Delaware to stop fighting for the rest of its federal Race to the Top funding, a key urban district has dropped out of the state’s education reform plans.

Christina and the state were at odds over its compliance (or lack thereof) with Delaware’s Race to the Top plan. Delaware wants the 16,800-student district to use money for large teacher bonuses for the most-effective teachers, which was part of the promises the state made when it won its $120 million federal grant. Christina disagreed and, after a months-long feud, is no longer participating in Race to the Top. It loses $2.3 million of its $10 million grant.

Half the $4 billion in Race to the Top grants went to states, and half to participating districts.

In Ohio, several districts indicated in recent months that they would drop out of that state’s grant, saying the funding wasn’t worth the trouble.

Recently, I asked the other Race to the Top states how their district participation was faring—and they all said they are on very solid ground. North Carolina had seven of its 33 charter schools drop out (but all 115 traditional districts remain). Massachusetts lost 42 districts just after it won the grant, but has kept the remaining 234 since then. The other states have kept their participating districts on board. —Michele McNeil

A version of this article appeared in the June 05, 2013 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the Week

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