Federal

Department Expands NCLB Tutoring Pilot Programs

By Catherine Gewertz & Lynn Olson — August 08, 2006 5 min read

In a push to provide more children with free tutoring under the No Child Left Behind Act, the Department of Education is expanding two pilot programs that allow school districts to offer the extra assistance a year earlier than usual, and to serve as tutoring providers even if they themselves have been deemed poor performers.

The announcement came the same week late last month that the department unveiled a pilot program designed to help states better test students with limited English proficiency.

The July 26 announcement on tutoring by Deputy Secretary of Education Raymond J. Simon means that for the 2006-07 school year, 23 school districts in five states will be allowed to offer free tutoring to students from schools that have failed to make adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind law for two consecutive years. Those students will be offered the choice of transferring to better-performing public schools after their own schools have failed to meet AYP targets for three years running.

The federal law, which holds schools accountable for raising student achievement, requires underperforming schools to offer the transfer option first—after a school has failed to meet academic targets for two years—and then tutoring, after three years. But a pilot program in 2005-06 allowed four school districts in Virginia to reverse that order. The Virginia districts may now continue that practice, and 19 more districts in Alaska, Delaware, Indiana, and North Carolina will be allowed to do so as well.

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A second pilot program that will be expanded allows districts that themselves have been deemed “in need of improvement” under the 4½-year-old law to use federal Title I money to run their own tutoring programs. Federal regulations bar districts from offering tutoring services under the federal law if they carry the needs-improvement label, but last year the Chicago and Boston school systems did so anyway under a pilot program aimed at boosting a low student-participation rate for such services. Only 10 percent to 20 percent of eligible children were being served by the tutoring programs nationally. (“Ed. Dept. Allows Chicago to Provide NCLB Tutoring,” Sept. 7, 2005 and “Ed. Dept. Grants N.Y.C., Boston Waivers on NCLB Tutoring,” Nov. 16, 2005.)

Mr. Simon announced that the Anchorage, Alaska, and Memphis, Tenn., districts will also be permitted to serve as tutoring providers this year even though they have not met the federal law’s achievement targets.

“In the limited experience we had last year with Chicago and Boston, we saw good things happening for kids,” Mr. Simon said in a conference call with reporters.

In launching the two pilot programs, federal officials said they wanted to see whether controlled changes in the “supplemental educational services” provision might increase participation. They said they were expanding the flexibility experiments because those changes did seem to do so.

In Boston, for example, 3,600 students received tutoring in 2005-06 school year, either from the district’s own program or those of private vendors approved by the state to provide tutoring in the district, according to the department. In Boston the year before, 2,000 students received tutoring from either the district or private vendors.

Michele McLaughlin, an assistant director of educational issues for the American Federation of Teachers, said the union welcomes the additional flexibility, but remains concerned that there is too little information about interventions such as tutoring and transfers to justify their use as mandated improvement tools.

“We just want schools to have choices that are research-based,” she said.

English-Language Learners

Meanwhile, the Education Department also announced a pilot program designed to help states better test the reading and mathematics skills of students with limited English proficiency under the No Child Left Behind law.

The LEP Partnership, launched in collaboration with the National Council of La Raza and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, will immediately target 18 states whose assessment systems have yet to receive full federal approval, in part because they lack evidence that they are appropriately testing the content knowledge of students still learning English.

Many of those states have been threatened with federal fines for their failure to appropriately test such students. But federal officials said that those fines would be held in abeyance in exchange for states’ working with the department to develop better tests and accommodations for English-language learners in time for 2006-07 state test administrations.

“For those states that enter into this partnership, we will waive the fines for this year, if they stay on the plan to improve the assessment systems for their LEP learners,” Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said in a July 27 conference call with reporters.

The No Child Left Behind law requires states to include English-language learners in regular standardized tests in reading and math and use those scores in calculating whether schools and districts have met annual achievement targets. But many states have struggled to meet that mandate, a problem that became clear during the Education Department’s peer review of state standards-and-assessment systems this spring. (“Department Raps States on Testing,” July 12, 2006.)

To participate in the partnership, states must negotiate a plan with the department that spells out how they will fully meet the law’s requirements for testing English-learners by the time they administer their state reading and math tests this coming school year. An additional six states—California, Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, and Tennessee—are participating even though they don’t have problems with their tests.

Raul Gonzalez, the legislative director for the National Council of La Raza, a Latino advocacy group based in Washington, said Hispanic groups have been asking for the kind of technical assistance to states from the federal government that the partnership is expected to provide.

Assistant Editor Mary Ann Zehr contributed to this report.
A version of this article appeared in the August 09, 2006 edition of Education Week as Department Expands NCLB Tutoring Pilot Programs

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