Congressman Offers Revisions to 'No Child'

By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The leading House Democrat on education issues proposed revisions yesterday to the No Child Left Behind law that would ease the penalties for public schools that barely miss academic testing targets but tighten another rule that has helped the District and Virginia.

U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee and a leading sponsor of the law in 2001, called his proposal a work in progress. He and three other committee members were floating the ideas as they move toward introducing a bill likely to contain major changes to the controversial law. Miller has said he wants to move a bill through the House of Representatives next month.

The proposal would allow states to use more than annual tests in reading and math to rate schools; give credit to states for students who are projected to reach proficiency within three years; and require states to test certain students with limited English skills in their native language. For some schools that fall only slightly short of academic targets, the proposal would also lift requirements to provide after-school tutoring and let students transfer to better schools.

In addition, Miller proposed strengthening a rule that requires test scores to be reported separately for groups of students identified by ethnicity, race, family income and other factors. Currently, Maryland reports separate scores for groups in a given school if there are at least five students in the demographic category. D.C. schools report scores from all groups with at least 40 students in a given school, and Virginia sets the threshold at 50 students.

The proposal would require scores to be reported -- and achievement raised -- for all demographic groups with at least 30 students in a school. That could make it harder for Virginia and D.C. schools to reach academic targets.

The proposal also endorsed allowing states to rate schools based on the progress of individual students, rather than comparing, for example, this year's third-graders with last year's. That would build on a trial "growth-model" accountability program the Bush administration recently launched.

"The recognition throughout the educational community of the value of measuring how schools do with individual students over time is both striking and encouraging," said Thomas Toch, co-director of the D.C.-based think tank Education Sector.

Nina S. Rees, former head of the U.S. Education Department's Office of Innovation and Improvement in the Bush administration and now senior vice president of the tutoring provider Knowledge Universe Education, said the proposal would keep tutoring and parental-choice requirements for schools that missed targets by a wide margin but "ultimately reduce the number of schools that have to offer those options to families."

Miller's draft also puts new emphasis on high school dropouts, proposing resources to help schools with the lowest graduation rates have "data-driven decision making, improved curriculum and instruction, personalization of the school environment, staff collaboration and professional development and individualized student supports," according to a summary of the plan.

In another shift, Miller would relax accountability rules, allowing the use of more than test scores to rate schools. Other measures of progress, the summary said, could include "graduation rates, dropout rates, college-going rates, percentages of students successfully completing end-of-course exams for college preparatory courses" and improvement in the performance of the worst and best students in a school.

The law requires annual testing in reading and math in grades three through eight and once in high school. Although many critics of No Child Left Behind promote multiple measures of school performance, some backers of the law have expressed doubts about changes that would reduce the urgency of raising standardized test scores for all students, including the disadvantaged.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company