Department Offers Consulting Aid To Help States Meet Title I Dictate

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The Department of Education is offering help to states that have yet to adopt the student-performance standards now mandated under the $8.2 billion Title I program.

Only 18 states have created such benchmarks through a process that the department considers thorough enough to produce high-quality standards. The other 32 are still searching for ways to comply with mandates that Congress passed in 1994.

Now the department is offering to pay for consulting teams composed of state officials and other experts to help states whose standards-setting processes have failed to win over federal officials.

"Some states are very close to being OK," said Gerald N. Tirozzi, the department's assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education. but others, he said, are "light-years behind."

The adoption of performance standards has been the most difficult step for states as they adjust to Congress' overhaul of the 32-year-old compensatory education program in the 1994 Improving America's Schools Act.

1994 Mandate

The 1994 law requires states to have both content standards and performance standards for reading and mathematics for the current school year in order to participate in Title I, which serves disadvantaged students and represents the largest federal K-12 initiative. ("State Title I Directors Optimistic About Program Changes," Aug. 6, 1997.)

All 50 states have written their content standards to the department's satisfaction, Mr. Tirozzi said. But many are struggling with their performance standards, which explain how students will demonstrate they've learned the material defined in the content standards.

"It's a heck of a lot easier for states ... to say what students should know," Mr. Tirozzi said in a recent interview. "It's much easier to do that than develop performance standards [which say] how good is good enough."

A Fine Line

To help, Mr. Tirozzi's office has recruited a team of consultants who will visit states and advise them. Most have past experience writing standards for their own states. Officials from Hawaii, Nebraska, and Vermont have expressed interest in the help so far. Mr. Tirozzi said he expects others to seek assistance.

"It's a very good idea," said Virginia R.L. Plunkett, Colorado's Title I coordinator and the president of the Washington-based National Association of State Title I Directors. "Obviously, there's a need for it." It's especially important that the federal government is hiring consultants with hands-on experience rather than sending its own officials, she added.

The approach highlights the fine line that the federal agency has had to negotiate in certifying standards. The 1994 law gives federal officials power to review the processes that states followed in developing their standards, but not the standards themselves.

Some states, for example, received the department's support because they adopted standards aligned with the National Assessment of Educational Progress or the privately organized New Standards project. Because department officials consider those standards to be challenging, those states received approval right away, Mr. Tirozzi said. Other states, which showed that they had engaged the public in a full debate over what the standards should be, also won the federal imprimatur.

But the majority failed to win approval. Some states, such as California and Idaho, are revising their standards under orders from their governors or legislatures. Others are writing performance standards in tandem with the assessments designed to measure students progress in meeting them. The Title I law does not require those assessments to be in place for another three years.

Twenty-three states received one-year waivers to delay their adoption. The others are officially out of compliance with the law, but the department is still working with them.

"As long as they are continuing to work cooperatively with us," the department will not move to cut off funding, Mr. Tirozzi said.

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