Chiefs Seek Changes In Testing Law
No Child Left Behind Law called 'too Harsh' on some.
by Jay Mathews, Washington Post, January 31, 2004
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superintendents representing 17 Washington area districts and
two Catholic school systems presented a plan yesterday to fix
what they consider the most damaging part of the federal No
Child Left Behind law -- the annual testing of nearly all
disabled and limited English-speaking students.
In a proposal to the U.S. Department of Education, the
superintendents asked that students with limited English skills
be given less demanding tests at the beginning of their
schooling and that special education students be given tests
judged appropriate to their disability.
The superintendents said that Education Department officials, in
a private meeting yesterday, gave little hope of changes to the
special education rules anytime soon but hinted at possible
easing of the test rules for limited English speakers.
"They seemed very much interested in looking at changes [for
limited English speakers] fairly quickly," said Superintendent
Jack Dale of Frederick County.
Dale and three other representatives of the Washington Area
School Study Council -- Superintendents Jerry D. Weast of
Montgomery County and Robert G. Smith of Arlington County, along
with former Arlington Superintendent Arthur Gosling, the
council's executive director -- attended the meeting with two
The local school leaders said their plan would eliminate the
frustration and wasted time of giving tests that students cannot
comprehend without further help or instruction. Their proposed
regulatory changes, which could be made without Congress having
to amend the law, reflect complaints heard in schools throughout
the country. Ronald Tomalis, counselor to Education Secretary
Roderick R. Paige, said, "We are open to any ideas" for
improving the law's regulations.
No Child Left Behind requires annual testing of 95 percent of
children in grades 3 through 8 and in high school. It requires
schools whose students fail to improve at a steady rate to pay
for extra tutoring or for transportation to allow students to
transfer to higher-achieving schools.
The law lets schools test limited English speakers in their
native language for up to three years, but the Washington area
superintendents said that approach is too expensive because
dozens of different languages are spoken by their students. In
addition, many recent immigrant students are not literate in
their native tongues.
Weast complained this year that schools in his district judged
not to have made adequate progress under the law were penalized
for giving special accommodations -- such as teachers reading
parts of the test -- in accordance with special education law.
The superintendents said they have no quarrel with holding all
schools accountable for their students' progress. But they worry
that the law's good parts might be overturned if enough teachers
and parents are alienated by tough tests for students who have
not had time to overcome severe academic problems.
"We tried to come across that we are not the enemy," Weast said.
The No Child Left Behind law sticks a "needs improvement" label
not only on schools whose whole student bodies fail to reach
annual improvement targets but also on schools that have even a
single subgroup of students that fails to reach its target.
The subgroups include special education students and students
with limited English skills, as well as low-income students and
various racial minorities.
Once a student's academic work improves to the point where she
is no longer labeled special education or limited English, her
scores are not counted as part of that subgroup. The
superintendents said this penalized schools for doing a good
job, since taking the highest scores out of a subgroup made it
less likely it would reach its annual target.
They asked that any students who left the limited English or
special education subgroups because of high scores be still
counted as part of those groups for two years. They also asked
that special education students be tested under the conditions
agreed to in their individual education plans and that limited
English students be given tests easier than the tests at their
grade level required by the law.
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