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NCLB Outrages

No Child Reviews Special Ed Stance

So why do state educators remain polite in the face of this intractability and atrocity?

HARTFORD - Annual testing is a cornerstone of the federal No Child Left Behind law that no state can escape, a top education official told the state Board of Education Wednesday.

In a polite, 90-minute exchange, Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education Raymond Simon said while there may be wiggle room in areas of special education and how progress is measured in the 4-year-old law, annual testing in grades three to eight is nonnegotiable.

You can't have annual reporting to parents without annual testing, Simon said.

Simon made the comments after state Commissioner of Education Betty J. Sternberg and several board members suggested that annual testing would provide no new information, divert
limited resources from remedial efforts and limit instruction to what is tested.

A cost analysis provided to the board Wednesday estimates the federal government's contribution to help the state implement No Child Left Behind will fall $41.6 million short of the cost. A cost breakdown to local school districts is still being calculated.

Simon made his first official visit to the state a day after his boss, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, wrote to say the state would not get exempted from annual testing.

The state now tests students in grades four, six, eight and 10. Grades three, five and seven will be added in 2006 under the federal law, which seeks to make all students proficient
in reading and math by 2014.

Schools that don't keep up face sanctions, but according to Simon, nothing will happen to school districts that can't offer parents an alternative school to a failing school.

Tori Hendrix, a student member of the board, told Simon that teachers in Thomaston High School, which she attends, are assigning fewer projects because they are concerned about covering tested subject matter.

Simon said his department heard that concern elsewhere, but is convinced teachers can cover standards without narrowing what they cover.

Board member Don Coolican told Simon he supports No Child Left Behind, but believes the feds really should be measuring progress by looking
at how well students improve over time, rather than merely comparing the scores of one class to the class that came before it.

Simon told the board he is interested in getting more specific information about that. Board Chairman Allan Taylor said the state doesn't have a full cohort analysis plan yet.

Simon said his department has allowed six states including Vermont, Massachusetts and New York to begin factoring in the improvement of students who have yet to reach proficiency into the annual yearly progress standing.

Board member Lynne Farrell, a Shelton resident, told Simon she wants the law to change the way special education students are treated.

Currently, students with special needs
either take the regular test or, if they are severely disabled, a checklist.

Farrell and other board members said there needs to be a third option of off-level testing for moderately disabled students. Simon said the Bush administration was open to the suggestion.

Board member Janet Finneran wanted to know if the Bush administration favored investments in high schools over the desire in Connecticut to boost preschool efforts.

Simon said the president appreciates the efforts toward more preschool but is more concerned about high schools.

High schools today are our biggest weakness. If we don't get serious, we're slamming the door on our future, he said.

Simon added that despite a willingness to add flexibility to the law, he has seen no desire in Congress to change the law.

Now is not the time to back off. Now is time to stay the course. We don't want it to be another We didn't mean it' law, Simon said.

— Linda Conner Lambeck
Connecticut Post


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