No Child Update May Not Help Texas
Earlier defiance hinders chance to use new limits for learning disabled.
WASHINGTON - Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings today will give states more flexibility in enforcing federal No Child Left Behind laws, but Texas' previous defiance may prevent the state from taking advantage of the rule changes.
Education lobbyists say Spellings will expand the 1 percent limit on students with learning disabilities who are exempted from taking regular state tests in favor of a lower-level exam. She is expected to institute a new 3 percent cap, which would exempt about 100,000 more students in Texas.
The change means that a 5th grader who learns at a 3rd grade level can take the state test designed for third graders.
Spellings, a Houstonian, reluctantly revised the landmark 2001 education law she helped author in Texas in response to pressure from state education officials, particularly in Austin.
To qualify for the cap increase, individual states reportedly will have to demonstrate strong test results and a desire to improve them.
Texas will have to satisfy a "point-based criteria" that evaluates a state's commitment to No Child Left Behind's mission of closing the achievement gap between white and minority students.
"We're all waiting for the announcement, but my understanding is that the secretary is going to express her interest in having conversations with states about more flexibility," said Scott Palmer, an education policy consultant who works closely with Spellings. "But states are going to have to show that they have the foundation in place before they argue for changes."
The provision leaves Austin education officials in a pickle.
Last year, Texas Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley exempted about 9 percent of all Texas students from regular state tests. Rather than assign special education students tests corresponding to their learning level, as Spellings will soon mandate, Neeley gave them a different exam designed specifically for the mentally disabled.
Neeley's spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe was blunt. "We're not exactly on the department's best friends list," she said.
The commissioner has defended her actions in the past, and so far has said that she will not back down.
"In the end, Texas may be isolated in that many other states are going to be willing to work with the department's new rules," said Sandy Kress, an Austin lobbyist who helped Spellings with the No Child Left Behind laws in Texas. "Commissioner Neeley has to decide if she will work with the department and bring the 9 percent to 3 percent speedily."
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