E.D. Study Joins A Chorus Urging Chapter 1 Reform

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WASHINGTON--In a report scheduled to be released this week, Education Department officials join a growing chorus of outside experts in arguing that the Chapter 1 compensatory-education program is not achieving its intended purpose and should be substantially revamped.

The report from the National Assessment of Chapter 1, like similar assessments over the years, was mandated by Congress in preparation for an upcoming reauthorization of the program. But as its title, "Reinventing Chapter 1,'' suggests, the new assessment goes far beyond its predecessors in suggesting significant changes in virtually every aspect of the program.

Its central recommendations include a new testing system for Chapter 1 students, new requirements for participating schools whose students do not meet achievement standards, more flexibility for schools in using Chapter 1 funds, and narrower targeting of funding on the neediest schools.

"The Chapter 1 program cannot hope to enable students in high-poverty schools to meet the national [education] goals within any reasonable period if the program continues to do what it has been doing,'' the report warns.

The study was prepared over the past two years by analysts in the Education Department's planning and evaluation service, and it does not necessarily represent the views of the Clinton Administration.

"These are not the recommendations of [Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley]; the Secretary has been hands-off on this,'' Alan L. Ginsburg, the director of the planning and evaluation service and the acting assistant secretary for policy and planning, said last week. "These are principles and directions from the national-assessment staff, and the department will carefully review the findings.''

The report represents an unusually strong statement by federal officials that the flagship federal program in precollegiate education needs a significant refurbishing.

In support of that conclusion, it provides the first glimpse of data from "Prospects,'' a $40 million longitudinal study that is considered the first attempt to study the achievement of Chapter 1 students over time in a comprehensive and statistically representative way. Prospects is to be completed in 1997, although a preliminary report on its findings is due this year.

According to the new assessment, Chapter 1 students tested for the Prospects study in the spring of 1991 and again in 1992 showed "meager progress.'' While the students improved their percentile ranking in reading between the 7th and 8th grades, their mathematics scores dropped slightly between those grades compared with national norms. Scores dropped in both reading and math for students tested in the 3rd and 4th grades.

'Equity' Proposal Dropped

An earlier draft of "Reinventing Chapter 1'' that was obtained by Education Week contains more specific recommendations on some topics than the final version, which substitutes lists of policy options.

For example, the earlier version recommended creating a system of "federal-state compacts,'' in which states that tied Chapter 1 accountability to statewide standards would be allowed more flexibility in running Chapter 1 programs.

While the earlier, detailed description of such "compacts'' was dropped in the final report, the concept of exchanging increased flexibility for adoption of performance standards was retained as a policy option.

One interesting section that was not retained was a proposal to allow "compact'' states greater discretion in distributing Chapter 1 funds if they achieved an unspecified level of financial equity among their school districts. The controversial idea of using federal Chapter 1 funds to encourage a more equitable distribution of school resources within states is expected to be raised during the reauthorization debate.

Mr. Ginsburg said the proposal was dropped from the final report because the assessment's analysts decided to keep their suggestions more general.

"That's one way you could allow flexibility,'' he said. "We didn't want to get into it at that specific a level.''

"There is a question of how far you can go and still be supported by the data,'' Mr. Ginsburg added. The changes were "a matter of judgment'' on the part of the assessment staff and members of an independent advisory panel mandated by Congress for the study, he said.

Achievement and Poverty

Among its other findings, the final report cites data from the Prospects study indicating that achievement deficits for Chapter 1 students are most acute in schools with high percentages of poor children.

In the Prospects study, 1st graders in schools where low-income pupils constituted less than 20 percent of the enrollment scored at the 61st percentile in reading and the 67th percentile in math; by comparison, 1st graders in schools where at least 75 percent of students were poor scored at the 32nd and 33rd percentiles, respectively. The gap was even wider for 4th and 8th graders.

"No single cause can be identified as the primary explanation for the lower performance of students in high-poverty schools, which means that reforms must be comprehensive and systemic,'' the report concludes.

The authors recommend a series of changes designed to move Chapter 1 from a focus on remedial help for individual children to an emphasis on schoolwide improvement and higher achievement standards.

Altering Assessment

Many of the proposals concern a new accountability system for the program--recommendations that are based partially on an upcoming report from a committee that was appointed last year to study the issue of Chapter 1 testing.

Critics have argued that Chapter 1's dependence on standardized tests to measure student progress reinforces an emphasis on basic, rather than higher-order, skills.

The national assessment does not go as far as a recent report by the independent Commission on Chapter 1 that proposed requiring all participating schools to use new, performance-based tests tied to state standards and imposing potentially severe sanctions on schools that failed to meet performance goals within five years. (See Education Week, Dec. 16, 1992.)

But the national assessment does recommend moving in a similar direction. Like the independent commission's study, the new report recommends that the federal government continue to measure Chapter 1's national impact with standardized tests, but administer them only to a sampling of students.

School and student performance would be measured by tests, chosen at the state level, that assess achievement "in terms of appropriate levels of performance,'' the report says, rather than in comparison with national norms.

Improvement Process

Echoing the consensus among educators that the current program-improvement provisions of Chapter 1 "have not been a significant instrument for fundamental change,'' the report also suggests creating a new mechanism for identifying and aiding schools whose Chapter 1 students do not show gains in achievement.

The current program-improvement process, instituted in the 1988 reauthorization, requires programs that do not meet minimum test-score standards to draft improvement plans and eventually to accept state intervention. But critics argue that this rule magnified the negative effects of reliance on standardized tests, and that the standards were sufficiently low so that many schools slipped through the process without making significant changes.

The national assessment suggests that low-achieving schools receive more financial and technical assistance. It also says that sanctions could be strengthened to allow states to "reconstitute'' a failing school's staff, turn the school over to a third-party contractor, or allow parents to transfer their children to other schools.

Use of 'Benchmarks'

Like the independent commission's report in December, the national assessment proposes that states be spurred to tie Chapter 1 "benchmarks'' to state standards for curriculum content, student performance, and school services that apply to all students.

The report lists as options a mandate that all states do so immediately, which is what the independent commission recommended; or an agreement to give more flexibility to districts in states that establish adequate standards. Such districts could allow more of their schools to operate as schoolwide Chapter 1 projects, or apply for waivers to "loosen the strings on other categorical funding'' outside Chapter 1.

Currently, only schools where poor children constitute at least 75 percent of the enrollment can operate schoolwide projects. Under such status, Chapter 1 funds can be used to improve the whole school, rather than be restricted to services for eligible students only.

Targeting the Neediest

The report also recommends that the Chapter 1 formula be changed to target more funds to districts and schools with the highest concentrations of poor students. It does not advocate one particular way to accomplish this, but lists several options.

The report also suggests using Chapter 1 to support the coordination of social services for students and their families, particularly in high-poverty schools. It says this could be done through a new grant program, by requiring schools to include such coordination plans in their programs, or by directing the Education Department to "work with other federal agencies to establish more uniform guidelines for serving students at risk, and to waive conflicting requirements.''

In a separate statement, which generally echoes the recommendations of the main report, the advisory panel Congress created to consult with the Education Department on the study recommends that all schoolwide projects be allowed to use Chapter 1 funds to coordinate services.

Other Proposals

The report also recommends:

  • Allowing more limited-English-proficient students to receive Chapter 1 services by eliminating a provision that limits participation in Chapter 1 to L.E.P. children whose educational needs stem from problems "not related solely'' to their lack of English proficiency. According to the report, only about 35 percent of L.E.P. children are currently participating in Chapter 1.
  • Prompting schools, through mandates or incentives, to design Chapter 1 programs in which compensatory services are provided before or after school, rather than during class time.
  • Revamping a secondary school Chapter 1 program, which has never been funded, to include career counseling, job training, and help with such "gatekeeper'' courses as algebra that are requirements for college entry.
  • Promoting professional training for Chapter 1 staff members, either by providing earmarked funding or including the provision of training in school-service standards for Chapter 1. The advisory panel recommends requiring each district to use some Chapter 1 funds for that purpose, and also suggests that Congress consider grants to districts or individual teachers to attract highly qualified teachers to Chapter 1 schools.
  • Strengthening parent-involvement requirements, by encouraging or mandating the provision of additional information on school performance and encouraging the use of "contracts'' spelling out mutual responsibilities of parents and schools.
  • Requiring more extensive consultation between public school officials and private schools, with the goal of increasing participation of needy private school students in Chapter 1.
  • Requiring states to serve more students under the Chapter 1 migrant-education program who are currently migrants, rather than former migrants, and barring districts from withholding regular Chapter 1 services from schools that receive funds under the migrant program.

Vol. 12, Issue 22

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