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NCLB Outrages

Bills take another shot at No Child

Siu-Runyan Comment:
Good news in Virginia! But we need to remember that they are a Standardisto state. This is defiitely not a move against lots of testing.

The state legislature sends a pair of messages that makes clear Virginia's displeasure with the federal school standards program.

By Angela Forest

The General Assembly this month unanimously passed two bills that send the federal government a clear message on its approach to improving public school education - It's not working and we want out.

House Bill 1428 directs the Virginia Board of Education to ask the U.S. Department of Education for several waivers from the federal No Child Left Behind Act. House Bill 1427 instructs the state board to develop plans to pull out of adhering to the law.

The latter bill specifically tells the state board it should plan to "eliminate initiatives or conditions that are currently being funded by the federal act" unless they are part of the Virginia Standards of Learning.

It also directs the Office of the Attorney General to legally prepare for the loss of money the federal government now gives to schools that serve a high number of low-income students.

If those schools don't meet federal academic goals for two or more consecutive years, they face various sanctions under No Child Left Behind.

Children could be allowed to transfer to other schools, tutoring might be mandated, and the school administration could be taken over by the federal government.

This May, the law requires Virginia schools to start testing students in grades 4, 6 and 7 in reading and math.

With strong endorsement from the General Assembly, the bills now head to Gov. Timothy M. Kaine for consideration.

They represent an ongoing battle between Virginia and the federal government over NCLB, which uses state accountability measures such as the Standards of Learning requirements to determine whether all students - and those in specific demographic groups - meet federal standards in reading and math.

Virginia is one of several states that have called for more flexibility in the law - or taken steps to become free of it.

Bethanne Bradshaw, spokeswoman for Suffolk schools Superintendent Milton Liverman, said the bills reflect the legislature's support of actions the state board has been taking for some time to make the federal law more flexible.

Liverman is on the board of directors of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents.

The General Assembly is "basically telling the board to keep going," Bradshaw said.

Charles Pyle, spokesman for the state Department of Education agrees.

Virginia was one of the first states to begin holding schools accountable for academic progress through the SOLs, Pyle said.

At the same time, officials have adopted federal mandates and petitioned to change those they view as unworkable.

"It hasn't been the board's position that Virginia should walk away from No Child Left Behind," Pyle said.

"There's a lot of (federal) money at stake ... obviously that provides educational services for some of Virginia's neediest students."

In January 2005, Virginia education officials asked the U.S. Department of Education to make about a dozen changes to No Child Left Behind on its behalf.

The federal government met some of the requests in June, including allowing the state to count the results of students who take the same tests more than once toward annual federal assessments.

In August, seven Virginia schools, including four in Newport News, began participating in a pilot program that tutors students in schools that fail to reach Annual Yearly Progress before letting all students transfer to schools with passing rates.

But the delay in approving changes and the costs to localities in meeting the law have only fueled more dissent from state legislators, some of whom argue that the extent of federal oversight is unconstitutional and interferes with the Standards of Learning, established in 1995.

A study requested by the General Assembly, released in September, found that the federal government has failed to pay about $60 million a year toward the cost of complying with No Child Left Behind in Virginia.

The federal shortfall adds up to $247 million between 2003 and 2008.

— Angela Forest
Hampton Roads Daily Press


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