Analysis: States seek changes in NCLB
MIAMI -- Many states -- as many as half or more -- have asked the Education Department to change the way it calculates the key accountability provisions of the No Child Left Behind law.
No decisions have been made, and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said she will make decisions on the proposals as quickly as she can after meeting with state education officials.
Initial estimates at the deadline for submitting proposals Friday were that there were 27 requests, but officials said they haven't been tallied yet and the number is not firm.
One of the deadline proposals and one of the most extensive is from Florida, where 90 percent of the schools are expected to fail under the Adequate Yearly Progress provisions if their requests for change are denied.
"It's the way that the original calculations were designed that put Florida schools at a disadvantage," State Education Commissioner John Winn said Monday.
"It's not that the standards are not the same but the way you calculate the same data," he said.
He said Florida is in an unusual position because it is able to track each student year by year and over a period of years.
"It's a pretty powerful ability," he said.
The state used that ability to back up its request for change.
Under the AYP, schools must establish a baseline they will use to measure progress over the next decade to meet the goal of the education-reform act. That objective is to have all students performing at a proficient level in state reading and math assessments by 2013-14.
States must determine how they will define proficient performance and decide what indicators of student performance they will include in their definitions of AYP.
Incremental targets must be set to establish minimal levels of increases in student performance from 2002-03 through the target years.
Critics led by the National Education Association say the system of test results and ratings designed to determine the AYP is "producing a picture that is complex, muddled and often outright misleading."
One way the federal Education Department deflects criticism is by pointing out that most of it comes from the states themselves.
Many states now want to change that by changing their original proposals. Nationwide, an estimated one out of four are able to meet the current standards.
Florida, like many states, finds itself caught in a no-win situation, at least partly of its own doing.
AYP takes pains to track subgroups such as special-education students, minorities and limited-English students.
Nancy Nemhauser, chairwoman of the Broward County Exceptional Student Education advisory board, was among those who would be unhappy with the changes.
"We don't want the state to diminish standards for those with diminished voices," she said.
"If this goes through, this will have a terrible effect on those in special education and-or who have limited English," she told The Miami Herald.
Subgroups in Florida are tracked by the federal government if the group consists of at least 30 students in a single school. Florida wants that changed from the finite number of 30 to 15 percent.
A 15-percent threshold would be one of the highest in the country. Most states use a threshold similar to the current one in Florida of 30, 40 or 50 students.
The 15-percent figure would also exclude blacks and Hispanics in several schools who do not have that many minority students.
Florida also wants to go slower.
Right now, 31 percent of students in each group must be proficient in reading and 38 percent in math. Those rates go up to 48 percent in reading and 53 percent in math by the end of the school year. Florida would like to slow it down a little.
Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, lamented that as it stands now some states were looking better than Florida but the Sunshine State was doing a better job.
Winn said, however, Florida would not tinker with its proficiency level as determined by the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Some educators wanted to lower the threshold, but Winn said, "We wouldn't do that."
Winn also said the new proposals would not mean that most Florida students would reach the threshold.
He said based on 2004 test scores only 11 percent of the state's 3,054 schools would meet federal standards this year. The requested changes would only increase that figure to 32 percent.
In any event, the success under the federal standards doesn't come anywhere near the state standards set by Republican Gov. Jeb Bush's A-plus education plan.
Under the state measures, 68 percent of Florida schools earned an A or a B last year, but only 23 percent met the federal guidelines.
In his letter to Spellings Friday, Winn pointed out that Florida has demonstrated improvement in education since the beginning of the A-plus plan.
"These proposed amendments uphold Florida's high standards and support the intent of NCLB, keeping us on the path to ensuring that all students are proficient by 2013-14.
Rep. Jim Davis, D-Fla., who helped write NCLB and who is running for Florida governor next year, approved of the state's request for changes.
He said he has been asking the government for the changes for a year. He believes that Florida has put itself in a category all by itself with its requirements
Les Kjos, United Press International
World Peace Herald
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES