Chapter 1: New Provisions Forcing a Critical Look at the Quality of Services

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When the Chapter 1 law was rewritten in 1988, the most significant and controversial change was the addition of provisions requiring remedial action, and eventually state intervention, to improve programs whose students do not show sufficient academic gains.

Almost three years later, "program improvement" has forced educators in thousands of schools to take a critical look at the way they serve disadvantaged children, in some cases for the first time.

"We're focusing on the quality of the programs, rather than on compliance [with regulations], and that, therefore, is sending Chapter 1 in a new direction," said Mary Jean LeTendre, director of compensatory-education programs at the U.S. Education Department. "In the view of people who are administering Chapter 1 at the state and local levels, you can no longer give kids tests and file them away without doing anything about it."

Virtually all the educators interviewed agreed that program improvement is a good idea, at least in theory. But while some think it will boost student achievement as intended, others are more skeptical.

"It's hard to argue with the idea that you should improve programs that aren't working," said Joseph Hirsch, an administrative assistant who helps manage Chapter 1 programs in the Detroit public schools. "It's embarrassing that the federal government had to come in and tell educators to do this."

However, he said, "It's like sticking a thermometer in someone's mouth. It tells you something is wrong, but not what is wrong. And it doesn't necessarily give us the tools to do something about it."

Many educators affected by the process say it has already had positive effects, by spurring them to take a fresh look at their programs, encouraging collaboration among school staff members, prompting states to provide more assistance to local programs, drawing attention to Chapter 1, and causing schools to redouble efforts to involve parents.

A Stacked Deck?

But some educators feel that the deck is stacked against them. They complain that the tests used to measure student achievement are biased against disadvantaged children, that improvement in such areas as attitude and communications skills cannot be gauged on the tests, and that the mobility of the Chapter 1 population results in an understatement of student gains.

"I like the concept, but it creates anxiety," said Jim Tickle, the Chapter 1 coordinator for the Fall River, Mass., public schools. "It seems like punishment for those who work in the most challenging areas."

Some educators go so far as to argue that many Chapter 1 students are so disadvantaged in so many ways that no remedial program--or at least no program they can fashion with the resources at hand--can hope to bring them completely into the mainstream. For some students, they say, seemingly low scores actually represent a victory.

Meanwhile, representatives of parent groups and child-advocacy organizations argue that program standards are too low and that low expectations on the part of educators are the real issue. Such groups, along with the Council of Chief State School Officers, strongly supported program improvement as a way to force schools to face their problems.

"I think the standard they have set is going to undermine it to some extent," said Paul Weckstein, a lawyer at the Center for Law and Education who has represented the National Coalition of Title I/Chapter 1 Parents. "The standard that's being used is [test score] gains, instead of setting desired outcomes in terms of basic and advanced skills, as the statute requires."

While the federal regulations do not suit some parent advocates, federal officialsagree the standards should be higher. Ms. LeTendre has repeatedly exhorted educators to set higher standards on their own and to try new instructional approaches.

"If you say that with extra help nothing more is going to happen for the children than to stay even," she said, "I'd say you don't belong in teaching."

5,000 Schools Identified

Using 1988-89 data to identify schools for program-improvement efforts, Chapter 1 schools began grappling with the new provision in the 1989-90 school year.

According to surveys by the Education Department and the National Association of State Chapter 1 Coordinators, most state agencies and school districts chose to use the lowest possible standard, targeting for improvement only those programs in which average student achievement remained stagnant or actually declined.

Of the 53 agencies involved--in 50 states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs--only 16 adopted a higher standard.

Even so, approximately 5,000 schools, about 10 percent of all Chapter 1 schools, were identified for improvement.

Many state officials said it would be futile to use higher standards and identify more schools given the fact that they have only a small amount of additional resources to offer schools undergoing program improvement.

"I have 77 schools that could potentially go into joint [improvement plans]," Linda Miller, Chapter 1 coordinator for the state of Indiana, said at a conference last fall. "I worry about how I'm going to get my staff to 77 schools."

And in some states, Congressionally mandated "committees of practitioners" have pressed for lower standards. States are required to submit their Chapter 1 regulations for review by these panels, whose members are primarily local educators.

But some states did set higher standards, and some districts required gains of as much as 3 "normal curve equivalents" to avoid being identified for program improvement.

That term describes measurements along a scale, designed for Chapter 1, that can be applied to results from a variety of standardized tests.

"No gain or decline" in a student's standing relative to other students is expressed as zero n.c.e.'s; the minimum federal standard is an average gain greater than zero. Average gains for Chapter 1 students hover around 3 n.c.e.'s per year, while particularly successful Chapter 1 programs boast average gains of 10 n.c.e.'s or more.

At least one state--Oregon--set a statewide benchmark of 3 nce's, although only for its elementary schools. Secondary schools were required to post a gain of 1 nce the first year.

Cliff Eberhardt, an education specialist for the state education department who works on Chapter 1, said Oregon plans to raise the standards by 1 n.c.e. each year.

"The average kid comes into our program at the 25th percentile," he said. "If I want to get the kid out of the program and up to grade level--and my goal is to do that in two years--to raise them from the 25th to the 50th percentile, you have to raise them 12 percentiles a year. That translates to a lot more than 1 n.c.e."

Setting Higher Standards

Federal and state officials say preliminary surveys on the second year of program improvement indicate that more states are setting higher standards, and that such moves will contribute to the targeting of greater numbers of schools for improvement.

"I don't think there's any state where they're not talking about raising standards," said Diana Whitelaw, the Chapter 1 coordinator for the state of Connecticut and the president of the state coordinators' association.

The U.S. Education Department estimates that more than 6,000 schools have been newly identified this year, based on 1989-90 data, and approximately half the 5,000 schools targeted the first year did not post sufficient gains and will remain in program improvement for a second year, said William Lobosco, deputy director of compensatory-education services. That means almost 9,000 schools will be involved in the process.

While increased state and local standards have contributed to this trend, "more accurate reporting" is as least as important a factor, Mr. Lobosco said, noting that many districts applied standards loosely the first year, when they were unfamiliar with the process and some were unsure of the validity of their test data.

"The first time, it was, 'Let's get our feet in the water,"' he said. "This year, they just did a better job."

While surveys have charted state response, there are no national data on how many districts have established higher cutoff scores or additional standards--such as school grades, dropout and retention rates, attendance, or writing samples--on their own. However, every state coordinator interviewed said that at least some districts in the state had done so, and thatmany states require it.

Program-Improvement Plans

Educators in some of the 2,500 schools "held over" after a year of program improvement face intervention by state officials.

Schools that were identified based on 1988-89 data were required to put a pro
gram-improvement plan in place no later than the current school year, and those that do not show sufficient improvement in this year's tests will be forced to collaborate with state officials on a new plan next year.

Some schools identified the first year moved more quickly, however, implementing plans in the 1989-90 school year, and those that did not post adequate gains are subject to state intervention this year.

In Kentucky, for example, 49 schools were targeted for program improvement the first year and 45 met the standard after implementing a local plan, according to Joanne Brooks, director of the state division of compensatory education. The other four are implementing joint plans this year.

"We're focusing on coordination with the regular program and better identification of student learning styles," Ms. Brooks said. "We looked at what the schools were planning to work on, and those were the areas that seemed neglected or not addressed sufficiently in their plans."

California has 212 schools implementing joint plans with the state this year, according to a report on the implementation of program improvement released by the ccsso and the state Chapter 1 coordinators this month.

And the process began to consume a substantial proportion of the efforts and resources of state officials even before formal state intervention was required, according to the report, a finding that is supported by earlier surveys and interviews. State Chapter 1 coordinators reported spending as much as 75 percent of their time monitoring compliance with the new rules and helping districts draft and implement improvement plans.

A Range of Responses

Teachers and administrators involved with program improvement report a wide range of responses. In some schools, very little changes; in others, programs have been totally revamped.

"Where I see it working is where districts and schools have done a complete inventory of the program and related services," said Michael Hughes, Chapter 1 coordinator for the state of Arizona. "My concern is that some districts and schools are just working around the edges."

One district that has made dramatic changes is Sunnyside Unified School District, an elementary-school district that serves part of Tuscon, Ariz., and adjacent communities. All 11 of the district's schools have Chapter 1 programs, and about 70 percent of its students come from poor families.

"We decided to completely change the focus of Chapter 1 in all our schools, because it wasn't working," said Marla Motove, who oversees Chapter 1 programs in grades K-3.

The district's Chapter 1 students had been "pulled out" of regular classes for extra instruction, but now receive help in their regular classrooms, before or after school, and in the summer. There are no longer any Chapter 1 teachers. Instead, each school has a "program facilitator," who helps develop the curriculum for remedial students, trains teachers to work with them, and sometimes works directly with students.

Each school also has a parent liaison, tutors, and teachers' aides who are supported with Chapter 1 funds. The district has also developed a "joint relationship" with the county's adult-education program, helping Chapter 1 parents learn English or earn high-school-equivalency certificates.

The most important result, Ms. Motove said, is that school staff members are working together to help Chapter 1 students.

"It was a philosophical change," she said. "Before, most of the staff thought they were not responsible for taking care of these kids and seeing that they progress."

Most districts are apparently moving more cautiously. Prince George's County, Md., for example, adopted a high 3-nce standard--resulting in the identification of 48 of its 59 schools for improvement--but its schools have not dramatically revamped their programs in response, said Evangeline Wise, an assistant Chapter 1 supervisor for the district.

Ms. Wise said many of the schools received additional funds for staff training or operating extended-day programs. Others are trying new curricular approaches, such as the "whole language" method of teaching reading or setting aside time for conferences between teachers.

Ms. Wise said that this year's test scores are not yet in, but that she is hopeful they will reflect the increased attention principals are paying to Chapter 1.

"I think it will work because some of the principals are really responding," she said. "This got their attention."

Skeptical About Process

But many teachers and administrators in schools serving the most disadvantaged populations are more skeptical that the program-improvement process will lead to significant gains in student achievement.

"Some of the kids make big gains; there are others who drop the average," said Dale Thomas, a Chapter 1 teacher at Herman Elementary School in Detroit. "There are some who have such an unstable environment, we can only do our best. I had a kid take the test the day after his mother overdosed."

Of districts using the minimum standard for targeting schools, Detroit probably has one of the highest percentages of schools in program improvement. Of 218 Chapter 1 schools, 94 were identified for improvement after showing stagnant or declining student achievement in the 1988-89 school year.

At some schools, student performance dropped an average of 10 n.c.e.'s or more. In 1989-90, some improved enough to "test out" of program improvement, but another 57 were newly identified.

In a series of interviews with teachers and administrators, including district officials and educators in six schools, remarkably consistent themes emerged.

None of the educators said they were turning their programs upside down in response to program improvement. The most commonly cited changes were increased efforts to involve parents and a greater emphasis on outside reading.

Schools that received more money as partof the program-improvement process--or because they have qualified as schoolwide projects under other new rules--are investing it in staff training, increasing the size of their staff, and equipment.

"It was a headache for schools," Mr. Hirsch said. "There are some schools doing the right thing, but there are many that aren't. Some just want to do a writing job and get it over with rather than confront the problem."

The district, he said, is providing assistance to targeted schools, but the response is up to them.

"All we can do is monitor it," he said.

'We're Doing the Best We Can'

Some educators view the process as just another annoying bureaucratic hurdle for them to jump. Some welcome it as a new way to angle for more money. Some appear to have taken the challenge to heart and redoubled their efforts at community outreach. But no one predicted that it would result in dramatic increases in test scores.

"Anyone who has seen where the kids come from will realize we're doing the best we can," said Betty Yee, principal of Lynch Elementary School in Detroit. "You would think World War III had started, and they didn't wake you up for it."

Her school is located in a neighborhood dominated by glass-strewn vacant lots and loose shingles, with its back to a large cemetery. Young adults loiter across the street. Ms. Yee pointed to a bullet hole in a school door and glass panels she said had been broken by gunfire more than once.

"We have kids whose parents abuse them," she said. "We have kids who essentially have no parents. We have to teach them survival skills, like how to wash their socks."

Despite these conditions, the school receives only $93,000 from Chapter 1--enough, according to Ms. Yee, to retain one full-time teacher, maintain some equipment, and bring in some special arts programs. In addition, the district uses Chapter 1 money to provide a half-time counselor and a social worker who visits once a week.

Of the school's 390 students, 126 are eligible for Chapter 1 and about 70 of them receive services.

"We try to serve the worst off, but I also look for those I think there is hope for," Ms. Yee said. "If one kid doesn't come to class, I try with another."

"You can reach these kids," she said. "When one of the successful ones comes back to say 'thank you,' that's where I get my strength. But we can only do so much for so many."

Even those who were more confident that their students would improve their scores complained about having the worth of their programs judged on the basis of tests.

Tests: 'The Big Bugaboo'

"The big bugaboo about the Chapter 1 population is that it's an unstable, mobile population," said Billie Joan Gibbs, principal of Hanstein Elementary School in Detroit.

"I have 20 percent turnover, and I really resent that," she said. ''The kids who have been here five years are doing all right."

DelGreta Lamar, a Chapter 1 reading teacher at Hanstein, said the program-improvement process "has brought us together as a staff."

"I feel a sense of fulfillment because everybody's really trying to do what we have committed to do," she said.

"But test scores don't show that," Ms. Gibbs interjected.

"Students also make gains that don't show on tests," Ms. Lamar said. "It shows in their environmental experience and their communications skills."

Detroit educators were unanimously skeptical about state intervention.

"We like the accountability, but we don't like the structure," said Delbert Clinton, a program supervisor for one of the district's regional divisions. "We don't like the idea of somebody far removed coming in here. What are they going to do that we haven't?"

Linda Brown, Chapter 1 coordinator for the state of Michigan, said the attitude of Detroit educators did not surprise her.

"They've had a long history of school-improvement efforts," she said. "During their orientation, we picked up from the Detroit staff that they have been involved with program improvement for years and years, and there was a certain sense of discouragement."

Falling Short

But resentment of the program-improvement process is not limited to Detroit, and some of the same concerns are echoed even by educators who insist that the most disadvantaged children can succeed.

Many educators contend that the separate instruction encouraged by Chapter 1 and its heavy emphasis on testing--exacerbated by program improvement--clashes with ideal educational practices.

Others simply argue that tests are not a fair way to judge a program's success. They note that one particularly troubled child can send a small program into the program-improvement process, and that, in many cases, the children producing the two sets of scores being compared are not the same children.

Ms. Wise of Prince George's County, who applauds her district's decision to set a relatively high test-score standard, said she is, nonetheless, "annoyed" at the weight being given those scores, noting that nce's are a comparative standard and that it is difficult to justify requiring a particular amount of yearly progress.

"It's really frustrating when numbers are thrown at you, and nobody knows what it really means," she said. "What does it mean to gain 7 nce's? What does that say about what the child learns, how well he does in the regular program?"

Ms. Whitelaw of Connecticut said some states are examining some of these concerns by studying alternative evaluation methods.

In the meantime, Ms. LeTendre of the U.S. Education Department urged districts and schools to set additional "desired outcomes," adding that, if significant gains on other measures can be proven, a school with low test scores might justifiably be exempted from program improvement.

But many local educators see the other side of the coin, and note that they could also be identified for program improvement for failure to meet additional standards. Several state coordinators said schools in their states were targeted solely because they failed to meet additional goals they or their districts set for themselves.

"You can imagine how furious a building principal is when children are showing good [test score] gains, and they are targeted because of desired outcomes," Ms. Miller of Indiana said. "They didn't know what they were getting themselves into."

Ms. LeTendre responded: "I have to believe we can rise above the concern one would have for one's own reputation and make sure we are as concerned about what happens to the children as we are about that. I know there's a human dimension here, but we have to get past that and look at what's good for the kids."

A Lack of Trust

Others said they are more concerned with avoiding state intervention in their programs. While some local educators said they have good working relationships with state officials and expected to get effective aid from them, most were more skeptical--including many who praise the program-improvement concept.

"I believe in high expectations; I believe in accountability," said Carley Ochoa, the Chapter 1 coordinator for the Riverside, Calif., schools. "The problem is, we don't yet trust what's going to happen."

"If we have a school that's in trouble, we're going to deal with that, no matter what the law says," said Ms. Ochoa, who has no schools that did not meet minimum standards. "If I name it a program-improvement school, it gets labeled. You get nothing to speak of in the name of resources. You get state people coming in."

"When I don't think they have any more ability to deal with the problem, and maybe less, why should I do it?" she asked.

Similar arguments were made when the program-improvement law was being drafted, and groups representing state and local officials fought hard over the provisions.

In the end, lawmakers who favored the concept won out by arguing that something had to be done with programs that do not work and that someone had to be given the authority to ensure changes are made. State officials, they said, were the only realistic option.

Lucy Watkins of the Center for Law and Education argues that, since education is a state and local responsibility, a process that gives them joint responsibility to improve schools is appropriate.

"In many cases, you won't find the knowledge of research at the local level that you have at the state level, or the time and resources," she said, while acknowledging, "There was nobody else to give it to."

Vol. 10, Issue 35, Page C11-13

Published in Print: May 22, 1991, as Chapter 1: New Provisions Forcing a Critical Look at the Quality of Services
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