States seek more flexibility under No Child Left Behind

Wednesday, February 15th 2006, 12:56 pm
By: News On 6

SALEM, Ore. (AP) _ About 15 states are vying to be chosen as one of the few that will be allowed some leeway in how student progress is measured under the No Child Left Behind Act, the federal education law criticized by some as overly rigid.

Applications are due Friday, three months after Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced that states would be allowed to seek some flexibility.

Under the current law, schools are expected to show year-to-year improvement in test scores _ for example, this year's third-grade scores are compared to last year's. Under the pilot program, however, schools will be allowed to chart how individual students are doing on standardized tests from one year to the next.

The idea is the latest move by the Bush administration to allow more breathing room in the No Child Left Behind law. The administration is also giving rural teachers more time to become ``highly qualified'' and allowing more exemptions for severely disabled students.

The 2001 law is set for a tough reauthorization battle in Congress next year, and even some Republicans are calling for more flexibility. The results of the experimental program could affect the debate.

The applications are coming from states urban and rural, red and blue, including Florida, Ohio, Arizona, Alaska, Hawaii and Oregon. Other states planning to apply include Indiana, Colorado, Delaware, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. A maximum of 10 states will be chosen by this spring.

Under No Child Left Behind's current incarnation, schools must bring all students up to grade level in reading and math by the year 2014. Schools that fail to get increasing percentages of students up to scratch face a series of consequences, from having to pay for after-school tutoring to a state takeover.

Because of the tough standards, thousands of schools across the country has been listed as ``needing improvement.''

Some teachers, principals, superintendents and state officials have long backed the idea of tracking the progress of individual students from year to year.

That kind of information ``can be a telling story,'' said Roger Sampson, Alaska's education commissioner. ``If we look at how kids are progressing, it gives us solid data to say whether our instruction is hitting the mark.''

However, some activists are afraid states will use the new approach to shirk their obligation to raise the test scores of minorities and immigrants.

The new approach ``is going to have to ensure that those students who are very far behind are going to make more than one year's progress in one year's schooling. We are not sure states are prepared to ask that of their teachers,'' said Danne Piche of the Citizens Commission on Civil Rights, a Washington advocacy group.