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Education secretary says testing needs a federal standard

Ohanian Comment: The reporter has the name wrong. It's the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is a corporate-funded conservative advocacy group that specializes in lobbying state legislatures for enactment of favorable legislation.

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By Katherine Sayre

GRAPEVINE – The U.S. Department of Education should bring federal accountability standards to the nation's public high schools as a next step to helping students learn, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said Thursday.

Spellings, who was appointed education secretary in January, spoke to the American Legislative Executive Council[sic] on Thursday as part of the group's annual conference this week. Spellings talked about testing scores among school children since the No Child Left Behind federal law went into effect in 2002. The law requires schools to have increasingly higher numbers of third-grade and fifth-grade students pass reading and math exams, with a goal of having all students passing by the 2013-14 school year.

That law should be expanded into the nation's high schools because those campuses need improvements, Spellings said. Hispanic students are four times more likely to drop out of high school than white students, and twice as likely to drop out as black students, she said.

"We know our high schools need improvement," Spellings said.

Minority students in third-grade and fifth-grade have made improvements in test scores across the country.

The law requires schools to make progress in testing scores among all students and among each minority group, termed "adequate yearly progress."

"No Child Left Behind is good policy and good politics, because the American people see education as a value, not an issue," she said. "Values represent the hopes and dreams we have for our children.

“These students are making historic gains,” she added. “Like the President said, ‘We're making great progress for the American people.' ”

President Bush spoke at the council's meeting Wednesday, when he was awarded the council's Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award. The council is made up of 2,400 state legislators and 300 members of private business, focusing on limited government and private enterprise.

Spellings said education is a state's right written in to the Constitution. She said federal laws should complement state's efforts.

"Education reform started with us at the state level," she said. Spellings worked as a senior adviser to Bush when he was governor of Texas, focusing on the state's education policy. Previously, she was an associate executive director for the Texas Association of School Boards.

Most states put half of their annual operating budgets toward education, she said, while the federal government funds about 8 percent of education.

Recent improvements in public education also can be attributed to increasing competition from private schools and charter schools, she said, and the number of private school vouchers being used is growing.

"Parents today have more choices than ever before," she said. "The competition is driving everyone to improve."

She said she often gets questions on three topics: how to appropriately assess students with disabilities, how to credit schools for making improvements, and how to help students with limited English.

The Education Department is working with states that want to develop modified tests for students with disabilities, she said, and the department is considering a "growth model" that would give schools credit for improving test scores.

The department wants students with limited English skills to learn English and meet the same academic standards as other students, she said.

"I believe student achievement is our most important focus," she said.

— Katherine Sayre
Education secretary says testing needs a federal standard


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