Federal Opinion

How Are These NCLB Reports Like All The Other Reports? Lotsa Ways.

By Alexander Russo — February 26, 2007 10 min read
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Back in the day, there used to be a thing called a “side by side” that would compare the key provisions of different versions of legislation category by category or even sometimes provision by provision. Maybe it’s still done.

In the meantime, David DeSchryver from Brustein & Manasevit has done somewhat the same thing based on seven NCLB reauthorization reports (USDE, Commission, Chiefs, NEA, AFT, NASBE, NCSL.

Common if not unanimous areas of interest and direction include: a focus on standards and cross-state comparisons, calls for more flexibility in accountability models, improved assessment quality, a better menu of sanctions and corrective action, addressing the special education system, incentives for teachers in high need schools and districts, more exemptions for ELLs, and increased funding. However, the devil is in the details.

Interestingly, he says it’s the Aspen Institute Commission Report that is the real outlier in terms of size and scope (I had thought it was the USDE proposal).

UPDATE: See the full text of this section below, exclusively from This Week In Education.

UPDATE 2: See the updated version (as of March 2) here.NB: See the updated version (as of March 2) here.

NCLB Reauthorization Emerging Consensus

Congress was out of session this week for the President’s Day District Work Period, providing time to take stock of the prominent No Child Left Behind reauthorization proposals. Proposals from seven different entities stand out: the U.S. Department of Education (ED), the Commission on No Child Left Behind (Commission), the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the National Education Association (NEA), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the National Association of School Boards of Education (NASBE), and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Each state and many organizations, of course, also have or will have their own set of proposals, but we will review those as a group later.

The seven fall into three camps: the Commission, ED, and all others. ED’s recommendations stand out because it is the administration’s. The Commission’s stands apart because the bookstore ready 230-page report simply overshadows the others in scope and detail. Because of the extensive detail, the recommendations appear to expand the scope of the federal role, which is contrary to the all others category.

Yet, taken together the reports provide enough information to begin to identify consensus and generate insights on probable outcomes, and the following list attempts to do that. The list identifies the reports’ common position on eight critical NCLB issues, it identifies notable outliers (which are often the Commission’s) and it identifies ED’s proposals on the matter. The list is a developing consensus analysis. It is not a comprehensive review of each proposal and it will develop as more information is available. Having qualified it, here are the NCLB reauthorization emerging trends:

1. Standards: All proposals recognize the value of the 24 year old standards reform movement (if you allow for a 1983 starting date, when the National Commission on Excellence in Education published A Nation at Risk). Three address the oncoming national standards debate directly. The AFT supports funded explorations of “shared standards” while the Commission describes in detail how the law should require mandatory use of or the incorporation of model national standards. ED proposes that states report the proficiency rates for state and NAEP assessments on the same public report card. ED also proposes to conduct a cross-state comparison of standards. It also advances the Administration’s high school agenda by proposing that states must develop, by 2010-11, course-level academic standards for two years of English and Math that will prepare high school graduates to succeed in college or the workplace.

The emerging consensus is in support of national standards and more cross-state comparison.

2. Accountability design: All seven proposals pursue more state discretion to design their accountability models, which would include a variety of state growth and progress models as long as they can demonstrate validity. The Commission links their growth track proposal to a state requirement to develop robust longitudinal data system and to vertically align standards and assessments. ED also supports the inclusion of growth models but their criteria remains stringent, allowing growth models only for states with well-established assessments and robust data systems that can meet the current growth model pilot program “core principles.”

The emerging consensus is to allow states more flexibility to design an accountability system that is fair and accurate, but the technical criteria of a growth or progress model remains in contention.

3. Assessments: There is uniform demand to improve the quality of assessment systems. Four of the seven recommendations (CCSSO, NCSL, NEA, NASBE) propose that state assessment systems include multiple measures of accountability. The AFT and the Commission do not expressly recommend multiple measures but do propose federal funding for accurate, fair and efficient assessments. The Commission takes it further, of course, and proposes that the law require vertically scaled assessments, which adds to its recommendation to require vertically aligned state growth models. ED does not address the quality of the assessments but would add science to state assessment systems at three grade levels by 2008.

The emerging consensus is for multiple measures of accountability keyed to the development of longitudinal assessment systems.

4. Consequences: All seven of the recommendations, including ED’s, propose to provide states a better menu of corrective actions and to allow targeted interventions to the schools and districts with greatest need. CCSSO and the Commission propose to make better use of supplemental educational services (SES) by expanding its availability to qualifying students and allowing it in the first year of school improvement (SI). ED’s proposals promote choice and SES extensively. ED would allow SES in the first year of SI, require that districts spend all of their SES and choice funds each year or risk forfeiting the balance of their 20 percent set-aside for these activities, and strengthen the enforcement mechanisms to ensure that districts give parents and students proper and timely notice of their SES and choice options. ED also recommends more investment in the School Improvement Fund.

The emerging consensus is for more targeted interventions for the neediest schools and districts and for providing more corrective intervention options. There is also growing momentum for expanding the role and quality of SES services, but that momentum does not extend to ED’s choice proposals which are dead on arrival in Congress.

5. Students with disabilities: All seven recommendations recognize the tension between NCLB’s assessment requirements and IDEA’s individual education plans (IEP). Five of the seven recommendations address the tension with the current 1% and pending 2% caps[1][1] with a bottom-up approach, which allows the student’s IEP (and particular needs) to determine which assessment they would take. CCSSO proposes the use of alternative assessment against alternative and modified achievement standards based on the student’s IEP. The NCSL, NEA and AFT recommend giving the IEPs authority over the proper assessment for AYP purposes. The Commission, however, follows the current percentage cap approach by proposing to keep the existing 1% cap and reducing the proposed 2% cap to 1% while adding provisions to IDEA to strengthen the IEP team’s role in determining the appropriate assessment. ED proposes to follow its current path and allow states the option of assessing a small group of students with disabilities based on alternate and modified achievement standards.

The emerging consensus is for NCLB to provide more deference to the assessment determinations of IEP teams. There is a relationship between the deference and the continued development of fair and accurate growth models. Like growth models, the issue’s technical criteria remains very contested.

6. Teacher quality: There is uniform agreement that there should be incentives to bring teachers into high need schools and districts. Six of the seven proposals support NCLB’s current highly qualified status (HQT) requirement structure but propose more flexibility for meeting the advanced credentialing requirement, and more flexibility for multiple subject teachers and teachers who instruct students with disabilities. There is, however, a strong split between the Commission and the NEA on the inclusion of a teacher quality rating based, in part, on the academic achievement of the teacher’s students. The Commission would expand HQT to HQET (E representing the student achievement indicator). The HQET provision is as central to the Commission’s recommendations as preventing it is to the NEA’s. The AFT is silent on the matter, but Congress has yet to debate the issue seriously. ED’s recommendations do not address teacher quality directly, but prose to expand the existing Teacher Incentive Fund, Reading First, Striving Readers and to fund the Math Now proposal.

The emerging consensus is for the reauthorized law to grant more common sense exceptions to the HQT credentialing requirements and to design incentives that would attract teachers into high need subjects and districts. There is no consensus over teacher effectiveness; it is a very contentious issue.

7. English language learners: Five out of seven of the recommendations seek to expand the current testing exemption for new immigrant students beyond the current two year exemption in the regulations. Only the Commission seeks to authorize the current two year exemption in the regulations. All recommendations seek to extend the subgroup transition period for ELL students who have demonstrated proficiency for at least three years. ED proposes to allow states to recognize schools making significant progress in moving LEP students toward English language proficiency.

The emerging consensus is for more flexibility for the testing of new immigrant students and for the time a student may be included in the ELL subgroup for AYP purposes. As indicated by ED’s recommendations, the development of growth models will play a vital role in the policy development.

8. Funding: This one is unanimous – more funding.

The consensus is easy, but the projection is not clear. The growing costs in the war in Iraq, growing Medicare and Medicaid commitments, the size of the deficit and national debt will determine the future level of funding for domestic programs.

Overall, the recommendations seek to strike a new federal and state relationship that provides more state and district flexibility in exchange for improved academic accountability, a relationship where ED would be tight about the ends and loose about the means. Yet, as the Commission’s book demonstrates, the devil is in the details and as the details emerge ED’s central monitoring role appears to continue to expand. And that makes an important point for the reauthorization: it will be a technical and difficult process, making its completion by this summer or the end of this year unlikely.

“NCLB Reauthorization: Guiding Principles,” National Association of State Board of Education, www.nasbe.org/NCLB_Principles.htm, visited February 23, 2007.
ESEA: It’s Time For a Change (National Education Association, July 2006), http://www.nea.org/lac/esea/images/posagenda.pdf.
NCLB: Let’s Get it Right (American Federation of Teachers: 2006), http://www.aft.org/topics/nclb/downloads/LGIRrecommend.pdf.
NCLS Task Force on No Child Left Behind (National Council of State Legislators: 2006)
Chief State School Officers Recommendations to Reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (CCSSO: January 2007), http://www.ccsso.org/Whats_New/Press_Releases/9575.cfm
Building On Results: A Blueprint For Strengthening NCLB (United States Department of Education: February 2007), http://www.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/nclb/buildingonresults.pdf.
Beyond NCLB: Fulfilling the Promise to Our Nation’s Children (The Commission on No Child Left Behind: February 2007), http://www.nclbcommission.org.
Author: DAD

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