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Utah Is Behind on New Ed Rules

Utah education officials acknowledged Thursday that they will not be able to meet all the requirements of a sweeping federal law that holds schools accountable for improving student achievement.

The deficiency could land the state in hot water with the U.S. Department of Education.

The No Child Left Behind law requires public schools to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) toward 100 percent student proficiency. It requires them to meet annual goals for increasing student achievement, participation in standardized tests and a third element that factors into school quality. Each state can choose its third criterion.

Federal officials were surprised to learn Thursday that Utah won't be able to use the third element specified in its own plan -- a plan that was approved in June.

"I have not been aware of that," said Celia Sims, special assistant in the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. "I can't comment until I have a conversation with them."

Like many states, Utah officials planned to track high schools' graduation rates, and elementary and middle schools' attendance rates, but incomplete and inconsistent data made that impossible this year, said Louise Moulding, director of evaluation and assessment for the state Office of Education.

The state office never asked districts to submit schools' 2002 attendance data because of internal miscommunication and delayed federal guidelines on how to implement the AYP provision, she said. The data were supposed to be the base line for schools to improve upon in coming years.

Also, attendance data from the 2002-03 academic year were recorded inconsistently from one school to the next, Moulding said. For example, one high school counted students absent for each class period they missed, while another marked a single absence regardless of the number of periods missed, she said.

Consistency and accuracy are critical because of the stakes attached to the data. Schools that don't meet their targets for all three indicators could face federal sanctions and publicity on their shortcomings.

"We just decided that instead of putting out known erroneous or misleading data, that we would not use it this year. We've decided to take the consequences from the federal government," Moulding said. "We don't know what's going to happen. We have pretty sound reasons, and we'll have to justify those with the Department of Education."

Sims declined to comment on how her department would respond, or on what she expects the range of possible penalties to be.

She added that many states were not able to use their third indicator because they, too, had not collected enough data or were still developing their data-collection systems. In the meantime, those states will use "proxy" indicators for their third measure. For example, Wisconsin is using science scores as a proxy until it can collect adequate graduation-rate data.

Utah educators originally planned to use attendance as a proxy for graduation rates until 2007, when enough data would have been collected to calculate those rates.

Moulding said Utah does not have a proxy measure for attendance.

That means last spring's standardized tests in language arts and math will be the only determinants of whether Utah's 800 public schools made adequate yearly progress.

The state Office of Education recently notified districts of which schools missed their growth targets on the tests, but the list won't be released publicly until next month. Some schools that miss their targets for two or more consecutive years face federal sanctions.

Utah already is in the U.S. Department of Education's doghouse for missing its August deadline for releasing the list of schools that fell short of their goals. The federal law requires schools to notify parents before school starts so that they have time to take advantage of options available to them, such as transferring their children to better performing schools or signing up for free tutoring.

— Ronnie Lynn
Utah is behind on new ed rules
Salt Lake Tribune


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