January 18, 2006

Crapo Seeks To Improve No Child Left Behind Act

Writes Education Secretary seeking more options for schools, students

Washington, DC - Idaho Senator Mike Crapo is seeking administrative improvements and potentially legislative changes to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) to make it work better for students, teachers, and schools. Crapo wrote U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings seeking relief for state leaders who fear the federal guidelines are not flexible enough. "President Bush's sweeping education reforms included in the No Child Left Behind Act have had measurable positive effects on many students across the country, and I support the law's objective," Crapo wrote to Spellings. "However, given time to observe the implementation of the law, it is now appropriate to review opportunities for needed improvements to the underlying program. After conferring with a number of organizations in my state and at the national level, I have identified concerns that seem common to various stakeholder groups. In response, I have collected a list of recommendations for workable, common-sense modifications to the law. These provisions preserve the major focus on student achievement and accountability and, at the same time, ensure that schools and school districts are accurately and fairly assessed. I request that you comment on the extent of your existing authority to address these desired changes through regulations and your willingness to issue such regulations."Among the reforms Crapo is seeking is the ability of local school districts to be able to offer supplemental services to students before they are mandated to offer transfers to other schools. Crapo also says the mechanism to label a particular school in "need of improvement" should be refined to make sure student groups surveyed for that determination remain consistent from year to year.In addition, Crapo encouraged the Secretary to continue to expand efforts to integrate measures of student growth in determining Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), the standards used to measure a school's progress under NCLB. This change is designed to more accurately measure student and school achievement. Crapo also advocated for flexibility regarding disabled or other students with learning handicaps in determining how they factor into AYP. "I have discussed these issues with Idaho teachers, school board members, and school executives who agree some changes are needed," Crapo concluded. "There are changes we can make administratively and some we may have to pursue with targeted reform measures in Congress. Either way, we will continue to strengthen the process to make sure it works for students while continuing to push for classroom excellence from the local and state level." Read the statement from the National School Board Association on Senator Crapo's efforts regarding No Child Left Behind# # #The Honorable Margaret SpellingsSecretaryUntied States Department of Education400 Maryland Avenue, SWWashington, DC 20202Dear Secretary Spellings:As a father and a legislator, I am committed to advocating for public education in Idaho and throughout the nation. Ensuring that every child receives a good education is one of the most important and commonly-held goals of parents, teachers and local, state and federal governments. President Bush's sweeping education reforms included in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) have had measurable positive effects on many students across the country, and I support the law's objective. However, given time to observe the implementation of the law, it is now appropriate to review opportunities for needed improvements to the underlying program. Your recent statements concerning your planned efforts to review provisions within the law and to provide maximum flexibility to the states and local school districts are very encouraging. I was pleased to hear of your pilot program incorporating growth models into the basic AYP measurement system. This approach would ensure that schools that are clearly making progress in enhancing student achievement are given the credit they deserve. I look forward to reviewing the results of this demonstration. I also support consistency in the implementation of the law so that each state will have the same advantages as other states in assisting children to succeed. As you know, there are concerns in the education community about NCLB, and I support efforts to make meaningful, effective changes to it. I am committed to working both legislatively and administratively to increase flexibility for states and local school districts under NCLB. After conferring with a number of organizations in my state and at the national level, I have identified concerns that seem common to various stakeholder groups. In response, I have collected a list of recommendations for workable, common sense modifications to the law. These provisions, which are explained below, preserve the major focus on student achievement and accountability and, at the same time, ensure that schools and school districts are accurately and fairly assessed. I request that you comment on the extent of your existing authority to address these desired changes through regulations and your willingness to issue such regulations.First, in the initial year a school is determined to be "in need of improvement" a district should be able to offer supplemental services to students, rather than offering transfer options. In addition, these services should be targeted to only those sub-populations shown to have caused the designation. If the same sub-population continues to be in need of improvement for a second year, transportation and school choice would begin. This targeted approach would allow districts to use resources to improve student achievement which are currently used to transport students to other locations. I am encouraged by recent changes made by the Department to AYP calculations for disabled students. Currently, there is a 1 percent cap on how many profoundly-disabled students can take a test based on alternate standards and have their proficiency scores counted toward AYP. Additionally, there is a separate 2 percent cap on students who have some cognitive disabilities who can take tests based on modified standards and still have their scores counted for AYP. I suggest that a student's Individual Education Plan (IEP) team be given greater authority in deciding the proper type of assessment for a disabled child. Specifically, allowing the IEP team to determine whether a child should take a test based on alternate standards or one based on the same standards as other children would take into account the special needs and challenges facing this population. In addition, it would give families and teachers-those closest to the student-more influence in the process. I applaud recently proposed regulations to this end, but note that the 2 percent cap may continue to prove difficult for students, administrators, and IEP teams. Another area of concern is certain school choice provisions. Currently, school choice options begin to be applied once a school is labeled in need of improvement regardless of which subgroups caused this designation by not meeting annual measurable objectives. This means that sanctions are often imposed upon schools when different groups or different indicators are involved from year to year. A sensible approach would be to apply sanctions only when failure to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is due to annual measurable objectives not being met by the same subject and group for two consecutive years. This would ensure that efforts are focused on those students truly in need of the most help. Some states have already been given the authority to implement a somewhat similar approach for determining AYP for local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools. All states should have this option. As you know, the current participation requirement for testing of Idaho's children under NCLB is 95%. Creating a participation range of 90% to 95% would provide flexibility for those unfortunate situations where districts have little to no control on student attendance due to parents who pull their children out of testing programs, long-term illness, or unusual patterns of attendance. Currently, due to NCLB reporting requirements, students are routinely identified in more than one sub-group when calculating AYP. This approach results in an over-representation of students that may fit into more than one reporting category. I suggest granting states and local school districts the authority to calculate AYP for a student belonging to more than one group/subgroup in a manner that would not exceed a total count of "1" for any such student. Thus, the student would be accurately and fairly measured in proportion to the total school population. Again, I would appreciate hearing your comments on these proposals. I would very much appreciate a prompt response. We all have a responsibility to promote successful, meaningful public education for America's children. Thank you for your leadership on this issue. I look forward to working with you to ensure that the important objectives of NCLB are achieved.Sincerely,Mike CrapoUnited States Senator