By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 18, 2006
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced yesterday that under a new pilot program, North Carolina and Tennessee will be the first states permitted to change the way they assess student progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
The "growth model" assessment will allow the schools to be in compliance by measuring the progress of individual students annually, instead of an entire grade of different students.
Spellings said that those states were selected because they have a sophisticated data-collection system already in place for assessing students.
Many schools prefer the growth model to the current policy because they believe it gives them more flexibility to meet the standards by showing that individual students are improving. Low-performing schools are subject to fines if they do not meet the No Child Left Behind assessment standards.
Spellings yesterday said that the pilot schools would still be obligated to meet the 2014 deadline for grade-level proficiency. She dismissed the suggestion the new model would leave room for lax assessments.
"That is completely untrue. . . . This is simply a different way to understand the progress that is being made," Spellings said at a lunch with reporters. "It is potentially equally as rigorous. It might be as good a way as the static model. . . . We're about to find out."
Spellings announced last year that she was open to allowing up to 10 states into the pilot. In the end, only 13 states applied and only the two were approved. Several states that came close but were rejected because they did not meet Spellings's requirements, will be given early consideration if they apply again. They are Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Delaware, Florida and Oregon.
"These are two states that have very sophisticated rich data," she said. "This is not for the faint of heart. It was a rigorous review process. It wasn't an open invitation to everybody. A state that has never done annual assessment before this isn't going to be able to do this."
Spellings added that she had the support of congressional leaders who "want to know if there's a better way."
"I do want the world to know if there is a better way to calculate and show progress," she said. "I'm open-minded about this."
Spellings allowed that, in general, schools were going to have to "pick up the pace" if they were going to meet the 2014 deadline. In particular, she said the Education Department is going to closely watch whether districts are placing their best teachers in the most challenging schools.
On another matter, Spellings announced yesterday that she has agreed to allow five states heavily affected by the influx of students displaced by Hurricane Katrina to create subgroups of those students for testing purposes so that the states' assessments would not affect their annual scores for this academic year. The Education Department has already approved Georgia's request and is ironing out details for Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Texas and Tennessee.
The students would be tested, but the scores will not count against the schools for this academic year, Spellings said.