Reporter’s Notebook

July 09, 2003 3 min read
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Federal Rules Drive Test Experts’ Agenda

The “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001 dominated a recent conference here on large-scale assessment, a gathering sponsored annually by the Council of Chief State School Officers.

“To say that No Child Left Behind is high-impact legislation is really to understate the case,” said Michael E. Ward, North Carolina’s state superintendent of education and the president of the CCSSO. While it’s taken 150 years to provide universal access to public education, he noted, states now have 12 years to reach “universal proficiency,” as the law demands. “That’s picking up the pace considerably, and, frankly, not a minute too soon.”

But the state superintendent also warned that the law has room for improvement. Among other criticisms, he charged that the requirements to ensure a “highly qualified” teacher in every classroom are “antithetical to the aim.”

Mr. Ward urged Congress and the U.S. Department of Education to work with states to address any “unintended negative consequences” of the legislation.

“NCLB version 1.0 will not suffice for the long haul,” he said, remarking that North Carolina has revised its own accountability system multiple times to make it better.

Many state testing and accountability officials at the June 22-25 gathering were still trying to sort out the details of the accountability plans the federal government approved earlier in the month—in part, to see if their own strategies merit revision. (“All States Get Federal Nod on Key Plans,” June 18, 2003.)

Three consultants have been working with the CCSSO to review the plans to gauge what got a nod from the Education Department and what did not, and how much consistency exists across states.

“Many, many plans are silent on many, many issues,” said Ellen Forte Fast, one of the consultants. She said that “rhetoric and rumors are flying” as states try to pin down what won approval and what didn’t.

The federal department was expected to send follow-up letters to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico early this month spelling out any clarifications or further conditions for approval.

“Until you see that letter, it’s hard to know definitively what were the issues,” said William J. Erpenbach, a co-author of the analysis, which should be released by the state chiefs’ council later this month. “A lot of this stuff is being negotiated by phone.”

One of the biggest concerns is how to test students with disabilities or limited English skills and include the results in state report cards and accountability systems.

Two surveys of state practices during the 2000-01 school year, just before the federal law was passed, provide a good baseline of just how far states have to go.

For example, 32 states did not publicly provide data on the participation or performance of limited-English-proficient students on state tests given during 1999-2000. And no state was testing more than three-quarters of its LEP students, among those that could provide such data.

In 2001-02, only 28 states publicly reported on both the participation and performance of students with disabilities on all state tests, said Martha Thurlow, the director of the National Center on Educational Outcomes, the University of Minnesota-based organization that conducted the surveys.

A separate study of state testing practices for LEP students, by Charlene Rivera of the Center for Equity and Excellence in Education at George Washington University, found that most states did not adequately address the linguistic needs of LEP students in their testing policies.

For example, although states permitted 73 different accommodations on state tests—such as more time—they often did not distinguish between accommodations for LEP students and for children with special needs. And many states prohibited accommodations on English/language arts tests that might benefit LEP students.

The reason for such prohibitions wasn’t clear, Ms. Rivera said, but she speculated that states were concerned about changing the actual content and skills being measured.

—Lynn Olson


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