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Education bid is left behind: Feds reject Utah's effort to satisfy 'No Child' rules

Ohanian Comment: It's hard to believe that the Feds still insist that 100% of students will be proficient by ANY date. This means that all districts in the country (that are honest) will be failing by 2014.

By Jennifer Toomer-Cook

Utah has lost its federal bid to use students' academic growth to satisfy No Child Left Behind rules, the U.S. Department of Education reported Friday.

The state's growth model petition didn't meet federal criteria in three areas, including holding schools accountable for how each group of students do on tests.

"It's pretty stark in terms of how they're handling those 'bright lines' (principles of the law)," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Patti Harrington said.

"Our relationship with the department is not what I would consider strained . . . we just consider this another step in this whole process of No Child Left Behind," she said. "My own perspective is the department's made their decision and we move forward."

Harrington does not believe the state's lackluster performance on a No Child Left Behind audit played into the decision.

"They didn't cite that, so no," it had no bearing, she said. "We think we can be compliant with all those issues."

No Child Left Behind seeks to have all children score as proficient on reading and math tests by 2014.

The Utah Legislature and state education leaders have challenged that goal as unrealistic and the law as intrusive on state education rights. But advocates for ethnic minority and low-income students believe the law shines a needed spotlight on historically underperforming groups, who can only be helped by its glare.

Last November, the education department announced up to 10 states could pilot a different way of judging whether students make progress on tests. Rather than comparing this year's third-grade scores to last year's third-grade scores, for example essentially comparing different groups of students states could propose longitudinal comparisons.

The state submitted the Utah Performance Assessment System for Students (U-PASS) accountability plan, which awards schools points for bringing up struggling students, even if they're still below grade level.

It didn't make the first cut.

Of 20 proposals, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, North Carolina, Oregon and Tennessee were forwarded for peer review, the department reported on its Web site.

Utah's was turned down for three reasons, Harrington said:

It did not have 100 percent of children proficient on tests by 2014. This year's goal is 75 percent proficiency, a target Harrington expects will grow. "We respectfully rejected that (100 percent proficiency) notion and felt it was unattainable and indefensible," she said.

U-PASS judges school progress in part by combining performance on reading, math and other tests, rather than separate judgments for each.

U-PASS regards all but Caucasian, native English-speakers who are able to pay for school lunch as one at-risk student group for accountability. The federal law requires accountability for each student group.

"We do not believe a subgroup of a size of 11 in a school of 2,000 should deem the school a failure," Harrington said.

But Charles Hausman, associate superintendent in Salt Lake City School District, believes the federal criteria are good. If the state expects less than all students to perform, "who is it OK not to be proficient?"

"There's very clear research that shows the importance of high expectations, and we should have them for all kids, period," Hausman said. "I support No Child Left Behind holding schools accountable for the performance of students regardless of their background. . . . There are disadvantages of that particular model, but the advantages are far more important."

— Jennifer Toomer-Cook
Deseret Morning News


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