News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

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‘Approved’ States Get Follow-up ESEA Letters

Just when they thought they were done, two of the first five states to have their accountability plans approved by the Department of Education under the "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001 received follow-up notes.

The letters to Indiana and Massachusetts officials from Undersecretary of Education Eugene W. Hickok document aspects of the state plans—required under the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—that need final action.

Most notably, the letters advise both states that they need to change their proposed policies for incorporating the scores of students with severe cognitive disabilities into their accountability systems. The two states had proposed that, for students with disabilities who take alternative assessments, the state hold them to achievement standards different from those all other students are expected to meet.

The agency warns that the proposals would not be consistent with final Title I regulations requiring all students to be held to the same grade-level achievement standards.

Although the Indiana state board of education on March 20 approved changes to align its accountability system with the federal law, last week it sent a letter to Secretary of Education Rod Paige and its congressional delegation complaining about some of those requirements.

"The adoption was taken with reluctance," the letter states, "because we fear the rigid notion of adequate yearly progress in No Child Left Behind will penalize schools and may very well chill enthusiasm" for Indiana's school improvement and accountability efforts.

Late last month, the Education Department issued new proposed regulations on alternative assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.

For this year only, the letters advise, the two states may use other than a grade-level standard for students with disabilities who take alternative assessments. But the percentage of such students at the district and state levels must not exceed 1 percent of all students in the grades tested, a cap Indiana officials say is unrealistic.

Alternatively, the states may hold such students to the same grade-level achievement standards as those for all other students. Take your pick, Mr. Hickok writes, then let us know what you decide.

—Lynn Olson

Lenders Reminded About Military Deferrals

The Department of Education last week reminded lenders of student financial aid for college that under federal law, active-duty troops are entitled to time off from paying back such loans.

In addition, the department is "strongly encouraging" institutions of higher education to refund tuition and fees—or provide future credits toward other tuition—for students called to military service.

In an electronic notice to lenders, colleges, and loan-guarantee agencies, the agency called on colleges and universities to assist in various ways students who are deployed for the war in Iraq or are called up to fill in domestically for troops sent to the conflict.

"As they defend the freedoms we cherish," Secretary of Education Rod Paige said, "our soldiers should not have to worry about their student-loan obligations and resuming their studies."

Federal regulations require lenders to postpone student-loan payments for those ordered to active service, such as those in the National Guard or Reserves, and for regular members of the military whose duty stations change as a result of a mobilization. Federal law also says that borrowers still in the nonpayment "grace" period—typically, either those still in school or in their first six months after graduation—be granted extensions of the grace period.

Borrowers may call (800) 433-3243 to see how the department guidance applies to their individual circumstances.

—Ben Wear

Vol. 22, Issue 29, Page 34

Published in Print: April 2, 2003, as News in Brief: A Washington Roundup
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