Problems Seen for Expansion of Testing of U.S. Students
Ohanian Comment: So where we see the disconnect between reality and rhetoric. All in a U. S. Department of Education statement means 20%.
WASHINGTON- A new federal requirement to sharply expand annual testing of students starting next school year faces serious obstacles, including unreliable data and a lack of clear and timely guidance from federal officials, according to a government report.
The report, by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found wide variation in the rules that states use to measure progress under No Child Left Behind, the federal education law that has been one of President Bush's major domestic initiatives. The variation makes comparisons between states meaningless, the report suggested.
Under No Child Left Behind, schools face a rigorous timetable of academic challenges in the coming years. Starting with the 2005-2006 school year, they must test students in Grades 3 to 8 annually on reading and math, and in 2007, they must also begin testing in science. By 2014, the law demands that all students become proficient in reading and math. Failure to meet the targets brings severe consequences, including, ultimately, possible school closings.
The G.A.O. report, which was released late last week, said that more than half the state and school district officials interviewed said they had been "hampered by poor and unreliable student data," with Illinois, for example, reporting data problems in 300 of its 1,055 school districts. About half of 21 state officials interviewed said the law's tight deadlines impeded their ability to carry out the law's promises.
The report also recalled that when the federal Education Department said that it had approved plans from all states for carrying out No Child Left Behind in June 2003, it had in fact completely approved only 11 plans, with the rest receiving conditional approval. As of July 31, 23 states and the District of Columbia still had only conditional approval.
The investigators said that state officials remained uncertain about how to obtain full approval, and they recommended that the federal Education Department give the states written guidelines and time frames. In a letter to the G.A.O., Eugene W. Hickok, under secretary of education, rejected the recommendation.
"The department already has a process in place to move states toward full approval," Mr. Hickok wrote. The existing system, he added, had resulted in an additional 22 states that previously had conditional approval reaching full approval.
Mr. Hickok said the department and the states had made great strides in creating an accountability system from scratch. "Although the G.A.O. has tried to capture some of this energy and effort in its report, states, school districts and the department have made far more progress than the draft report suggests," he wrote.
Coming just a few days before the next presidential debate, which is to focus on domestic policy, the report inevitably became fodder for new attacks on the administration about enacting No Child Left Behind. In February, Congressional Democrats first wrote to Education Secretary Rod Paige to question the handling of the law, saying that the department had been slow to provide states with the necessary guidance.
Representative George Miller of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said, "The report is a surprise only in the sense that it displays such a massive disconnect between what the president and the Education Department have been telling Congress and the public about how well No Child Left Behind is going, and the facts on the ground."
Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, said, "The administration is working fully with districts to make sure that the kids get the education and the resources they need to get a better education." He added, "There's more resources, there's a record amount, and we want to make sure the accountability is in place, and the data shows that students are improving."
Diana Jean Schemo
New York Times
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