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Breaking down the new education bill: a look at what the various requirements will mean for school districts, as well as a list of changes to occur this fall.

By now, everyone knows about the new education bill and its testing requirements. Or do you?

Sure, the No Child Left Behind Act has gotten a lot of press and most educators know its topline goals by heart. But the bill contains so much information that it's impossible to digest in one or two gulps. So consider this a planning guide for meeting the requirements of the new bill, including two sections that didn't get a lot of press--what changes school districts face this fall, and the report card that districts have to offer to parents and the community at large.

Besides testing and achievement standards, the legislation makes numerous changes in federal K-12 education programs. Here's a summary of key requirements and provisions about what states must do, by when, to comply with the law. (The Council of Chief State School Officers recently produced a 45-page draft paper about state responsibility under the new legislation. You can find a PDF version at

Currently, states must administer exams in reading/language arts and mathematics at least once during these ranges: grades three to five; grades six to nine and grades 10 to 12. The new law requires states to test students in more grades, using assessments developed or chosen by each state. These test results will be used to hold educators, schools and districts accountable for student achievement. Since these testing requirements will entail additional costs, they are contingent on the federal government providing a set amount of funding each year to help states cover the costs.

The new law also requires states to raise the qualifications for new teachers and verify the qualifications of current teachers, In exchange for meeting the new demands, poorer school districts will receive additional federal funding, and all states and school districts will have greater flexibility in how they can use federal funds.

By 2005-06, states must have highly qualified teachers in all their public school classrooms where core academic subjects are taught. States must take certain steps in the interim years to meet this goal. "Highly qualified" means that a teacher must be fully certified or licensed, have a bachelor's degree, and show competence in subject knowledge and teaching skills (generally demonstrated by passing a rigorous state test). The requirements differ somewhat for new and already-hired teachers, and for elementary, middle and high school teachers. Also, by school year 2002-03, all new teachers hired whose salaries are supported by Title I program funds must be "highly qualified."


* Starting in school year 2002-03, states must annually assess the English proficiency of students who are learning the English language.

* By school year 2005-06, states must administer annual statewide tests in mathematics and reading/language arts to children in grades three through eight, and at least once during grades 10 to 12, and must provide individual student test scores.

* By school year 2007-08, students must be tested in science at certain grade levels.

* Every other year, states must administer the mathematics and reading exams of the National Assessment of Educational Progress to a sample of their students in grades four and eight, with the federal government paying for the costs. NAEP is a national testing program that tracks student achievement in core subjects. This requirement is meant to serve as independent checks on the states' own tests.

Since the same NAEP exams will be given in every state, a comparison of NAEP results with a specific state's test scores could help determine the reliability and difficulty of a state test.

The new law also contains specific requirements about the features and uses of state tests.

* State tests must be aligned with the state's academic standards and must produce results that are comparable from year to year.

* State tests must yield results that can be used to determine whether students are meeting the state standards and to help teachers diagnose and address students' specific academic needs.

* States must provide test scores to local school districts by no later than the beginning of the school year after the test is given.


The law requires every school, school district and state to disaggregate the average test results for certain groups of students, including: major racial and ethnic groups, major income groups, students with a disability, students with limited English proficiency, and migrant students.

This requirement is meant to highlight the relative achievement levels of these groups of students and to hold schools accountable for closing the achievement gap between African-American and Hispanic students on one hand, and Caucasian and Asian students on the other.

Using disaggregated test information, states are required to follow a precise timeline to close achievement gaps between different racial, ethnic and income groups, and other groups noted above. Beginning after school year 2001-02, states have 12 years to move all groups of students to the benchmark set by the state for proficiency in mathematics and reading. States must set regular targets for increasing achievement during that period, using as a starting level the average achievement of the lowest performing group of students or schools in the state.

Each school must test at least 95 percent of its students, and each group of students in a school must meet or exceed the annual objectives set for them. Schools that do not reach state performance objectives will be subject to various forms of assistance, intervention and other actions, depending on how long the failure persists.


* If a school fails to meet performance objectives for two consecutive years, then it must receive technical assistance from the district to help it improve, and its students will have the option to transfer to another public school in the district.

* In the third consecutive year of failure, technical assistance to the school and public school choice will continue. In addition, students will have the option of using their share of Title I funds to pay for tutoring and other supplemental educational services either from their own school or from a state-approved outside group, such as a for-profit company or a private non-profit entity. (Title I, the largest federal education program, provides aid to low-income schools to improve education for low-achieving children.)

* In the fourth consecutive year of failure, technical assistance, public school choice and supplemental services will continue, but the failing school must also change its staffing or make another fundamental change.

* In the fifth consecutive year of failure, the governance of the failing school must be changed--for example, by converting it to a charter school, turning it over to a private management company, or having the state take it over.

Fall Requirements

To underscore the urgency of the new federal demands for accountability, the law includes some important changes that will be effective in the upcoming school year.

* In fall 2002, as already noted, new teachers hired with Title I funds must be highly qualified.

* In fall 2002, students in schools that have failed for a second year to meet the improvement provisions of the prior law will have the option of leaving the failing school and enrolling in a different public school in the district. According to the U.S. Department of Education, students in an estimated 6,729 schools will qualify for this option in the upcoming school year. The local school board must pay for some or all of these students' transportation expenses.

* In fall 2002, students in an additional estimated 3,000 schools will be offered the option of public school choice and of taking away from the public school system their per-pupil share of Title I funding (between $300 and $1,000 per child) and transferring that amount to a private company, religious institution or non-profit organization to pay for after-school tutoring or other supplemental services. This provision applies to students in schools that have already been labeled as failing for three years under the previous federal law.

Report Cards for Schools

Each school district must issue to parents and the public a report card that includes the following information:

* The local report card must describe the state test results for students in the district, and compare the local results with those for the entire state.

* It must include test results for each school in the district, and compare each school's results with those of the whole district and the entire state.

* It must list the schools in the district that are in program improvement--the term used to describe schools that are not raising achievement for all groups of students and that must follow the five-year schedule.

The law stipulates that states must issue similar report cards.

Parents have the newly granted right to request information on the qualifications of teachers in a school, such as whether teachers are state-certified and licensed or whether they are teaching with provisional certificates.

Charles Shields,, is a contributing editor and 20-year veteran educator based in suburban Chicago.
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Article Details
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Author:Shields, Charles J.
Publication:District Administration
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2002
Previous Article:Scores are up, dismay is down: determination by this Mount Vernon (N.Y.) superintendent has brought his once low-achieving district to new heights....
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