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Virginia Backs Down in Testing Showdown

An article in today's Washington Post saying that Fairfax County schools stand to lose $17 million if they don't comply with a federal mandate to change how they test English-language learners prompted me to get an update on the testing showdown between Virginia education officials and the federal government.

Charles Pyle, the director of communications for the Virginia Department of Education, told me that Virginia has decided to "move on" and carry out the federal government's mandate that school districts stop using an English-language proficiency test, instead of the state's regular reading test, for beginning English-language learners to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act.

In a Feb. 22 meeting between federal and Virginia education officials, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Raymond J. Simon reiterated an earlier threat that the federal government would enforce the law by withholding federal funds, according to Mr. Pyle. Mr. Simon reportedly said that Virginia could lose $2 million in administrative funds, and Fairfax County schools could lose $17 million.

The Fairfax County school board is one of six Virginia school boards that have passed resolutions saying they won't go along with the federal requirement. The others are Amherst County, Arlington County, Frederick County, Harrisonburg City, and Prince William County.

Mr. Pyle said Mr. Simon also indicated in the meeting that the U.S. Department of Education would approve Virginia's request to use a portfolio test, now being used for special education students, for some English-language learners. However, Mr. Pyle speculated that school districts would run into problems training teachers on how to give that test in time for this spring's testing season.

Now I'm wondering if Virginia's school boards will also back down or hold their own. Just because the state department of education has agreed to comply doesn't mean that the local school boards will do the same.

— Mary Ann Zehr
Education Week blog


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