Colo. District Opts Out of NAEP, Despite Aid Forfeiture

By David J. Hoff — January 19, 2005 3 min read
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A Colorado school district will forfeit more than $500,000 in federal aid rather than let its students take part in a national test.

The Academy School District No. 20 is one of the few, if not the only district nationwide, to decide to forgo its Title I grant as a consequence of opting out of the exam. Participation in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, officials there say, would detract from preparation for high-stakes statewide exams.

In a recent unanimous vote, the school board declined a request that it provide a sample of students for NAEP. In addition to concerns about losing instructional time, board members were concerned that the national assessment wouldn’t deliver individual scores or districtwide results.

Kenneth D. Vedra

“To take away 90 or 120 minutes of the instructional day, … with no benefit to us, what for?” said Kenneth D. Vedra, the superintendent of the 19,800-student pre-K-12 district, which serves the U.S. Air Force Academy and surrounding Colorado Springs area.

NAEP uses a sample of about 2,500 students throughout a state to capture a snapshot of statewide achievement in 4th and 8th grades. About 200 students from the Academy district would have been part of the sample representing Colorado.

“Two hundred of them are going to spend 90 minutes serving their country,” said William J. Moloney, the state commissioner of education, who wants the district to reconsider. “That’s about one-tenth of 1 percent of their total testing.”

The district’s unwillingness to play a role in the assessment is unlikely to jeopardize the validity of Colorado’s results, noted Mr. Moloney, a former member of the board that governs NAEP, often called “the nation’s report card.”

NAEP tests will be given between Jan. 24 and March 4. The state will administer its assessment in March.

The national exams will collect statewide results in reading, math, and science this year. A separate student sample, including 12th graders, will take a national snapshot of achievement.

New Penalty

Until 2002, districts could opt out of NAEP without suffering any consequences.

In 2000, for example, officials in 48 states promised to participate in NAEP’s math and science tests. But only 38 ultimately had enough schools take part to calculate valid results in both subjects for the 4th and 8th grades.

But the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 established a penalty for uncooperative districts. They will lose their support from Title I, the $12.3 billion program that provides funds for serving disadvantaged students.

For Colorado’s Academy district, though, that penalty would be minor. The $524,000 in Title I money is about 0.2 percent of its annual $250 million budget.

Even so, Commissioner Moloney said the district has a significant achievement gap between minority and white students. The Title I money would provide help to close that gap. “Why would you deprive [those students] of extra help?” Mr. Moloney said.

But Mr. Vedra said his district would be able to maintain its programs without the federal money. Because the growing district received more local tax income and state aid than it had expected this year, he said it would be able to cover the costs of the 12 teachers and aides whose salaries were being paid by the federal program.

“We might be forfeiting the federal money, but we’re not changing the [instructional] program,” Mr. Vedra said.

The district provided a sample of students for NAEP last year and might be willing to do so again next year, he added.

Mr. Moloney, the state chief, said he hopes the district will change its mind before NAEP is given; the state will need to recruit another district if the Academy district doesn’t do so.

“We’re doing all we can,” he said, “to keep the door open as long as we can on this.”

A version of this article appeared in the January 19, 2005 edition of Education Week as Colo. District Opts Out of NAEP, Despite Aid Forfeiture

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