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Arizona Ads and Accommodations

George Sheridan spotted this item.

On the Arizona Republic's website, near the beginning of the story on states "lowering the bar" on their assessments to avoid negative
consequences under the federal law, is an inset box. Not a sidebar or a photo, the box contains RELATED ADVERTISING LINKS. One is for an
organization dedicated to "injecting healthy competition into America's public schools." One is an online testing site for students and parents, with plenty of test prep. One advertises electronic workbooks with plenty
of skills objectives. "HURRY! Limited quantities available at this price!!!!! Limited time only!!!!!"

Education Exchange
No Child Left Behind Act. Consequences for failing schools?


No Child Left Behind Software that is engaging and fun Grades 6 through adult


Student Assessment & Prep
Achievement Test Preparation - Practice, Scoring, Timing & Ranking


Here's the article to which the ads were attached. In it, the reader can decide whether accountability should be more like buying a video or staying in a bad marriage.

Arizona isn't alone in lowering passing scores on standardized tests and setting up dual rating systems to help schools meet tough new student achievement goals.

Many other states have chosen to drop the academic bar to give schools time, and room, for improvement over the next decade.

President Bush approved every state's plans last month for meeting the federal No Child Left Behind Law, which aims to improve test scores of all students by 2014.

"We set the bar low with the intent of raising it every year," said Debbie Graves Ratcliffe, senior director of communications for the Texas Education Agency. "It gives schools a chance to grow and build up their programs."

This year, Arizona will lower its proficiency rate for the math portion of Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards, the big state test. The modified test will reflect what state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne
calls a "more reasonable" expectation of what Arizona students can do.

Texas has lowered passing scores for third-graders in math and reading. This year, students must answer 20 out of 36 reading questions correctly and 21 math questions out of 40 correctly. By 2005, those numbers will jump to 24 in reading and 27 in math.

Educators say there is one camp that believes "this is the bar," and if a lot of kids fail, then they're not meeting the state's expectations.

"We've taken the other approach," Ratcliffe said. "In our system, schools don't feel hopeless."

Colorado used to have a four-tiered state accountability system, but to appease new federal rules, lowered its standard of "proficient" to include what used to be deemed "partially proficient." More students, then, will pass the state test.

Robert Linn, a University of Colorado education professor and former president of the American Educational Research Association, doesn't have a problem with states lowering standards.

"A lot of states had set standards that were really quite ambitious when there were no stakes or consequences attached to them," Linn said. "With No Child Left Behind, that ballgame has changed."

What does concern him is that the federal government expects all students to be performing at a proficient level by 2014, regardless of income, race and English proficiency.

"We should not set a goal for all schools that is so high that no school has yet achieved it," Linn said.

States are doing their best, however, to give their schools credit for improvement, even if the progress does not fall on the federal radar screen.

Many states, including Arizona, Texas and Colorado, have created dual accountability systems.

Under new federal rules, schools in every state will receive a pass or fail grade based on whether test scores for certain ethnic groups have improved from one year to the next. But in Arizona a more relaxed, five-tiered system will give schools credit for overall improvement of test scores. The labels will range from "excelling" to "failing."

Horne said Arizona's system pays attention to all levels of students, while the federal system is focused on pulling lower-performing students up to par.

"Under the federal system, it doesn't make any difference what the bright kid does," Horne said. "We could be looking at a train wreck if schools start to neglect their average and above average students."

Texas is still creating its dual accountability system. Educators have just implemented a new state test, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, and are in the process of determining how to rate student progress. Under
the old state test, there were four performance levels.

"The new system will have more tiers than pass and fail. How many, we don't know yet," Ratcliffe said. "We won't know until December."

Yet critics wonder if dual systems will result in mass confusion among parents trying to figure out if their child's school is passing muster.

"I'm not opposed to labeling, but there comes a point at which consumers - parents or educators or taxpayers - start to get kind of confused," said Rob Melnick, director of the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University. "It's like trying to buy a VCR or DVD player. There are 15,000 features and 18,000 acronyms. In the end, what does it all

Having two systems to judge student performance can also get costly, since states must employ people to manage and crunch numbers for both.

"For states that had good systems to start, this will hurt," Linn said. "A number of states are facing substantial financial burdens."

But educators who see value in retaining two accountability systems argue that it's a long time until 2014, and chances are good that the federal law will change.

"If you chuck your entire state system and later on the federal law does change, then you're left with an unworkable system," said William Padia, director of policy and evaluation at the California Department of
Education. "Better to live with an uncomfortable marriage of the two."

California's accountability system ranks students in groups of 10 percent, rather than assigning labels, such as "excelling" or "underperforming," to different levels of performance.

California requires that each school improve state test scores 5 percent each year, Padia said, which means that a school could meet its state mark but not make "adequate yearly progress" as defined by the federal government.

"It's a bit of a challenge, these two things," Padia said.

— Maggie Galehouse
Arizona Republic
July 14, 2003


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