ED Floats school reform rules

Savvy school districts that have demonstrated what is known as “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) in reading and math can market online courses and other supplemental instructional services to underperforming schools, according to new rules proposed by the U.S. Department of Education (ED).

In the Aug. 6 Federal Register, ED published its long-awaited proposal for what states and school districts must do to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), President Bush’s signature education reform law, which takes effect this fall.

Although these rules are not final, states and school districts can use this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for guidance on how to begin retooling their existing data management and reporting systems to comply with strict new accountability measures.

The 245-page notice also more clearly defines what AYP and supplemental services mean. Schools that do not demonstrate AYP for two consecutive years must provide transfer options to students whose parents request them, and schools that don’t meet AYP standards for three consecutive years must provide supplemental instructional services, such as after-school or online tutoring services, to students who need them.

Technology will be essential to implementing the requirements of NCLB, said John Bailey, director of ED’s Office of Instructional Technology. “It’s almost impossible to enact [NCLB] without technology,” Bailey said. “The only way [educators] can identify what schools are underperforming is [by] using a data warehousing solution.” NCLB requires states and school districts to use annual test scores, graduation rates, and other numeric indicators to measure their AYP, making the newly required statewide accountability systems invaluable, Bailey said.

State officials, educators, parents, and the general public have until Sept. 5 to submit comments and feedback on these proposed rules. Comments can be eMailed to Title1Rulemaking@ed.gov. Here’s a summary of the proposed rules:

State accountability systems

NCLB requires that each state develop and implement a single, statewide accountability system to make sure every school achieves AYP. A state’s accountability system must be based on its academic standards and assessment. States must use the same system for all students, schools, and districts, though each state is free to develop its own unique system. The systems also must incorporate rewards and sanctions the states will use to hold their schools and districts accountable.

ED proposes requiring a single, statewide accountability system for each state starting with the 2002-03 school year. In addition, these systems must include guidelines for alternative assessment for students with disabilities but must ensure “that only students with the most significant disabilities take those assessments.”

Adequate yearly progress

NCLB requires each state to form its own definition of AYP. This definition must apply to every school and district, be statistically valid and reliable, and measure progress based primarily on the state’s academic standards.

The definition should include separate “annual measurable objectives” for math and reading for all students and also for different subgroups—including poor students, racial or ethnic groups, disabled students, and limited-English students.

States should use data from the 2001-02 school year to determine their initial AYP goal and should project further AYP goals until the 2013-14 school year.

“Adequate yearly progress must include intermediate goals that increase in equal increments over the timeline; the first increment must occur in not more than two years from the baseline year (2001-02) and the following increases must occur in not more than three years,” the notice said.

Also, a state’s AYP standards must include a required graduation rate for high schools and a similar indicator for elementary and middle schools.

For a school to achieve AYP, it must meet two criteria. First, each student and subgroup of students must meet or exceed the state’s annual measurable objectives. “If students in any subgroup fail to make the requisite progress, however, the school can still make adequate yearly progress if the percentage of students below proficient in that subgroup decreased by at least 10 percent compared to the preceding year and that subgroup made progress on one or more of the additional academic indicators,” the notice stated in what analysts refer to as the “safe harbor” provision.

Second, at least 95 percent of students in each subgroup enrolled at the school must be tested.

School improvement

There are three stages of improvement for failing schools, according to NCLB: improvement, correction, and restructuring.

Schools that don’t show AYP for two consecutive years must offer students transfer options, also known as school choice. After three consecutive years without meeting AYP, schools must offer supplemental educational services as well as school choice. Schools that fall into either of these categories are in the “improvement” phase.

If the school doesn’t improve after two years of offering supplemental services, it will be identified for corrective action. After one year of corrective action without AYP, the school will be identified for restructuring, which must include new leadership. All the while, the school has to offer school choice and supplemental services.

Communication with parents

Schools that are designated for improvement, correction, or restructuring must notify parents.

ED proposes clarifying this instruction by requiring that schools use a uniform, understandable format, and—to an extent practical—the notice should appear in the languages that parents speak. Schools should use both direct mail and the internet to convey their message. Schools should make sure this notification protects the students’ and parents’ privacy.

In the notice, schools must explain the school-choice option and must list the supplemental services that are available, including technology-based or distance-learning services.

“The proposed regulations would help ensure … [that] schools develop a uniform approach for communicating with parents throughout the school improvement process,” the notice said.

According to ED, more than 8,600 schools nationwide already have been identified as improvement schools and must begin offering school choice and, in some cases, supplemental services on the first day of school this fall. NCLB requires school districts to pay the full transportation costs for students to attend a school of their choice, but ED proposes limiting the financial requirement to 20 percent of a school’s Title I funding, so schools wouldn’t be obligated to satisfy all requests for school-choice transportation.

Supplemental education services

Title I defines supplemental services as tutoring and other academic enrichment services that are proven to improve student achievement. States must maintain an updated list of providers that parents can use and must monitor the quality and effectiveness of the approved providers.

The proposed rulemaking also permits individual schools and districts to provide failing schools with supplemental services.

ED proposes expanding the definition of “supplemental services” to include services provided by nonprofit organizations, for-profit businesses, public schools (including charter or private schools), or school districts. Schools identified for improvement, correction, or restructuring would not be eligible to provide supplemental services to other failing schools.

Students in failing schools don’t have to be limited by geography, Bailey said. Neighboring schools can offer supplemental services by providing online tutoring or creating software, and the failing school can offer distance-education courses via the internet.

Funding for choice-related transportation and supplemental services

School districts are required to pay 20 percent of their Title I allocation under subpart A to pay for school choice-related transportation, supplemental services, or a combination of the two. If parents request supplemental services, then districts must use at least 5 percent of this 20 percent to pay for them. States may set aside funds to help school districts that can’t pay for all requests.

ED proposes allowing school districts to offset this 20 percent of Title I funding by using funds from other federal, state, local, or private grant programs. Also, the department’s proposed rules clarify that school districts are free to exceed this 20-percent figure, but they aren’t required to do so.

See these related links:

ED’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Look under “NCLB Regulations”) http://www.ed.gov/offices/OESE/asst.html

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