Federal

State Chiefs Offer Views on NCLB Renewal

By David J. Hoff — October 23, 2006 4 min read
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State officials responsible for carrying out the No Child Left Behind Act want more money and more power to make the nearly 5-year-old federal law work.

The Council of Chief State School Officers said last week that its members should be able to determine whether schools and districts are meeting their achievement goals by measuring individual students’ academic growth, and that they should be able to use results from a variety of tests to make those determinations. The states also will need extra federal money to help improve failing schools, the Washington-based group said in a list of guidelines for improving the law.

“ESEA Reauthorization Policy Statement” is available from the Council of Chief State School Officers.

The overall tone of the federal school law must shift from being prescriptive to giving “real incentives” for improving student achievement at both the state and local levels, said Elizabeth Burmaster, Wisconsin’s superintendent of public instruction. She is the chairwoman of a CCSSO task force created to make recommendations on the law, which Congress is scheduled to reauthorize next year.

“Innovation must be the hallmark of the reauthorized law,” Ms. Burmaster said at a news conference held in the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 16.

State officials are ready to receive greater authority and flexibility because they have built assessment and accountability systems over the past five years and can add new features to them, said Valerie A. Woodruff, the CCSSO’s president and Delaware’s secretary of education. Some states are ready to measure students’ growth in their accountability systems, she said, and others can add new types of tests that will help teachers identify individual students’ academic needs.

“Now the question is how to build on and invest in these systems … in a manner that will improve achievement and close the achievement gap” between different racial and ethnic groups, Ms. Woodruff said at the news conference.

The law is the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which includes Title I compensatory education and other major K-12 programs. The No Child Left Behind law’s most challenging provisions hold schools accountable for showing adequate yearly progress, or AYP, toward raising all students to academic proficiency in reading and mathematics by 2014.

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The proposal by the state chiefs’ council targets what may be the most important debate when Congress reauthorizes the law: How much testing should the federal law require, and what types of testing will it be?

Seeking More State Authority

The Council of Chief State School Officers wants the federal No Child Left Behind Act altered so that state officials would have more authority to oversee the law’s testing and accountability measures. The changes would include:

• Letting states design assessments that are “more instructionally based … to inform best practices in teaching and learning.”

• Allowing states to develop accountability systems that measure students’ academic growth, using data from more than just test scores to determine whether schools are meeting achievement goals.

• Establishing lesser consequences than in the law currently for schools that fail to reach achievement goals by small margins.

• Giving state education agencies a larger share of federal funds so they have the resources they need to turn around consistently failing schools.

SOURCE: Council of Chief State School Officers

The Bush administration and many supporters of the law want to maintain its requirement for annual testing in reading and mathematics in grades 3-8, and at least once during high school. Some supporters may propose adding extra years of testing in high school.

The chiefs’ proposal recommends using new tests to determine accountability, such as formative assessments—classroom tests that regularly track what students have learned during a school year. Such tests could be in addition to the annual statewide tests that measure students’ proficiency, or they could substitute for those tests, Ms. Burmaster and Ms. Woodruff said.

In addition, the law should be changed so that all states can adopt accountability systems that reward schools and districts for demonstrating growth in student achievement, the CCSSO recommends. Under the current law, all students must meet achievement targets. But the accountability system doesn’t give schools credit for dramatic improvements among students who still fall short of such targets.

The federal Department of Education has authorized North Carolina and Tennessee to use so-called growth models for determining AYP on a pilot basis. (“2 States Selected for ‘Growth Model’ Pilot,” May 24, 2006.)

Whether Congress is willing to adopt growth models, add new testing, or even keep annual testing may depend on the results of the Nov. 7 elections, said Jack Jennings, the president of the Center on Education Policy and a former aide to House Democrats.

“New members of Congress are going to come in and say, ‘There’s too much testing,’ ” predicted Mr. Jennings, whose Washington-based research and advocacy group tracks NCLB implementation. “They’ll have to be convinced that this is the right approach.”

Dollars Needed

The CCSSO also said its members need extra federal money to meet the goals of the law.

The state officials contend they don’t have enough money to do all of the work to assist or take over schools and districts failing to meet achievement goals under the law.

“No longer should state administrative funds be viewed as overhead to be minimized,” the document says. “Rather, such funds should be viewed as essential to promoting data-informed decisionmaking, accountability, and reform.”

The eight-page proposal released last week explains the CCSSO’s broad goals for changes to the law. Ms. Woodruff and Ms. Burmaster said the group would release a detailed list of specific changes it wants early next year.

A version of this article appeared in the October 25, 2006 edition of Education Week as State Chiefs Offer Views on NCLB Renewal

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