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NCLB Outrages

Feds Won't OK State's "No Child Left Behind" Plans

This could get very interesting.

Concord -- With less than a month left of school, three New England states must administer No Child Left Behind testing this spring for elementary and middle school students, despite having no plan to do so.

In the letter dated Sept. 10, 2004, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont asked the U.S. Department of Education for flexibility based on the accountability and assessment cycle. The letter was signed by Nick Donohue, former commissioner of education in New Hampshire, Peter McWalters, Rhode Island commissioner and Richard H. Cate, Vermont commissioner.

The letter states several reasons for the request claiming schools would have to focus the curriculum and instruction on old and new standards simultaneously, students would be tested twice on two different sets of grade level standards within the same calendar year, schools and districts would receive two sets of accountability reports based on different standards within a five-month period and state departments would be burdened with the fiscal demands of two testing cycles within a year period.

"A critical dimension of this plan is to reschedule testing in grades 3 through 8 to the following October; however, the accountability consequences will continue without interruption," according to the plan.

Districts in each of the three states held off testing children in the lower grades, but did test in high school this spring; all according to the plan.

Foster's Daily Democrat learned Wednesday the request to postpone testing was denied; however officials in Rhode Island and New Hampshire were unaware of any decision and moved forward with their plan as presented. It is unclear whether Vermont is aware of the situation, but lower-grade students in the state have not been tested.

"The law requires that they test (in the spring)," said Elaine Quesinberry a U.S. Department of Education spokesperson.

Each state received a phone call from former Deputy Secretary Gene Hickok "a couple of months ago" notifying them of the decision, she said. The U.S. Department of Education said by not testing in the spring, there would be no accountability for districts over the past school year.

However, officials in New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island all claim the government never informed them of the decision.

Quesinberry would not speculate on the ramifications or sanctions for states not testing students.

However Brian Gong, executive director for the Dover-based National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment, said the U.S.
Department of Education has withheld Title 1 funding in the past from states that did not comply with the law. A reprimand letter could also be sent to each state, he said.

Rumors about the federal government's decision started swirling Monday at the New Hampshire Department of Education meeting to discuss changes in state education tests.

Tim Kurtz, director of assessment for the New Hampshire Department of Education claims the U.S. Department of Education knows of New Hampshire's plans, but has yet to notify the state of its approval or rejection.

Kurtz further claims that Vermont is faced with the same situation of not yet receiving notification.

During a department of education testing meeting in Portsmouth on Monday, administrators were told Rhode Island's plans were rejected and the state would have to administer NCLB tests this spring, Kurtz said.

Rhode Island and Vermont use the New Standards Reference Exam, a standardized test, which can be ordered though a company, but New Hampshire helps compose its NCLB test, so there would not be enough time left to arrange the test and put it together before this school year ends in late June, Kurtz said.

"It would be impossible to do so at this point," Kurtz said.

Rhode Island State Department of Education spokesman Elliot Krieger said Rhode Island filed a plan stating how the state would transition from the state's testing program to the New England Common Assessment Program (NEAP).

"We never had a response from the federal government," Krieger said.
Adding, since the department never had a response, "we took that as an OK."

Krieger said the state has no plan to test kids at this point in the year and to try and do so would be "inconceivable."

The Vermont education Commissioner Richard Cate said the state did some pilot testing in October. Every student took a test, but not every student took all tests, Cate said. The commissioner said his department did not make a request of the federal government, but simply told them how they were going to transition from one type of test to another. Cate did not expect to hear from the government on this issue.

A Regional Issue

On April 5, the state of Connecticut attorney general's office announced it would be the first state in the nation to file suit against the federal government because of the No Child Left Behind Act. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal argues that the law is currently imposing millions of dollars worth of "illegal unfunded mandates" on the state.

Connecticut's Education Commissioner Betty Sternberg said in April the suit would have been "unnecessary if the federal agency had shown flexibility and reasonableness in implementing the provisions of the law."

Two days later, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced a "more workable, common sense approach" towards the No Child Left Behind Act. Under the department's new approach, states will have "additional alternatives and flexibility, if they can show they are raising student achievement and closing the achievement gap,"
according to a press release dated April 7.

Flexibility is just what the federal government said it will not offer New Hampshire, Vermont, and Rhode Island.

Another late notice

This is not the first time New Hampshire has dealt with a late decision from the federal government regarding No Child Left Behind.

Barely three weeks before the start of school, Somersworth received word that one small subgroup in Maple Wood Elementary School did not make adequate yearly progress, as defined by the federal law.

On Aug. 12, Somersworth received word that it needed to offer parents school choice for elementary students, because of the situation with Maple Wood. School was set to open Sept. 1, meaning administrators had to scramble to make parents aware of the choice now open to them and to deal with any resulting shift in population.

As it turns out, only a handful of parents had their children move, which is in line with the typical shifting that has historically taken place between the two schools.

Over the course of the year, Somersworth Superintendent Charles Ott vented his anger at the system, which he calls a fraud. Ott wants schools to be held to "authentic accountability," something he does not see coming from the federal law.

About the latest issue, Somersworth School Board Chairman Mike Watman said Wednesday night there has been limited involvement at the board level around these issues. After hearing about the latest development, Watman said it sounds like "government run amok. ... it's ludicrous."

— Marcus Weisgerber and Jeremiah Rood
Foster's Daily Democrat (Dover, NH)


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