Ed. Dept. Warns States To Comply With Title I Rules

By Mary Ann Zehr — November 22, 2000 4 min read

Many states need to revamp their policies for including limited-English-proficient students in state tests and accountability systems if they want to continue receiving all of their federal Title I aid, according to the Department of Education.

All 50 states met an Oct. 1 deadline to submit evidence to the department that they are complying with Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as reauthorized in 1994. They must show, for instance, that as of this school year, they are giving state assessments that are aligned with state academic- content standards and that all students are included in the state tests and accountability systems.

But as of last week, only three states—Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming—out of 17 whose evidence had been reviewed were found to be fully complying with the law.

West Virginia was singled out by the department as the only one of those states that won’t be able to comply with Title I anytime soon. Department officials told the state that it must enter into a compliance agreement, under which it acknowledges it is breaking the law and agrees to make changes by a certain deadline.

“There are probably a handful of states that will have to do that,” Michael Cohen, the department’s assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, predicted in an interview last week. He anticipates that most states will receive conditional approval with the understanding that they will make some fixes later this school year.

The most common violation is failing to meet the department’s standards for including LEP students in testing and accountability systems, Mr. Cohen said.

Complex Issue

Mr. Cohen says it’s not surprising that states have fallen short in coming up with adequate policies for LEP students because doing so is such a complex task.(“Cause of Higher Calif. Scores Sore Point in Bilingual Ed. Debate,” Sept. 6, 2000.)

“Are we expecting something complicated? Yes, we are,” he said.

Title I says merely that LEP students should be assessed “to the extent practicable, in the language and form most likely to yield accurate and reliable information on what such students know and can do” and that “reasonable adaptations and accommodations for students with diverse learning needs” should be made.

But in formal guidances and memos interpreting the law, the department has told states they must account for every LEP student who has been exempted from the test.

States must write Spanish-language versions of their tests if they have sizable Spanish-speaking populations, for example, and they must provide accommodations, such as extended time for test-taking, or the use of glossaries, for LEP students who need it. States are expected to include all students in tests who have been in their schools for at least a year.

But Mr. Cohen shied away last week from laying out hard-and-fast rules.

“Every state has a different approach, and in order to understand each state’s system, you have to work through the details of each state’s approach,” he says.

The inclusion of LEP students in state- mandated tests has been a subject of recent controversy in California, which has about 40 percent of such students in U.S. schools. Just last week, San Francisco and three other districts reached an agreement with the state to settle a lawsuit challenging California’s LEP-testing mandate.

Dianne Piché, the executive director of the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights, a Washington-based watchdog group, said states’ failure to comply with the Title I requirement on testing such students was inexcusable.

“For six years, all states have been on notice that the federal law requires full inclusion and appropriate assessment of all students, including LEP students,” Ms. Piché said.

Her organization found that 18 states, including some states with large populations of LEP students, were “completely silent” on how they would include LEP students in tests when they submitted their initial assessment plans to the federal Education Department in 1996. She faults the department for approving those plans anyway.

About 2 million of the nation’s estimated 3.5 million LEP students benefit from Title I programs, which are aimed at improving the academic performance of disadvantaged students.

West Virginia was cited in violation of Title I in part for not providing adequate information on exemptions for students with disabilities or limited English skills, or on accommodations that might be provided for those students.

But a letter from Mr. Cohen also faults West Virginia for lacking a state test that is aligned with its content standards and for not using “multiple measures” for student performance in its accountability system. The state relies only on the Stanford Achievement Test-9th Edition.

“All of our problems are related to the fact that we use a norm-referenced test, and that’s all we use [for accountability],” said Suzette Cook, the assistant director of the office of instructional services for the West Virginia Department of Education.

The consensus of West Virginia officials, she added, is “put it in writing, and we’ll fix it.”

A version of this article appeared in the November 22, 2000 edition of Education Week as Ed. Dept. Warns States To Comply With Title I Rules