New Education Stakes Challenge States, Report Says
By Tiffany Danitz, Staff Writer
Most states are going to have a hard time meeting the high expectations set forth in the recently passed Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) because many states have yet to meet the requirements of the 1994 legislation, a report by the Government Accounting Office says.
The federal government had asked states to do more for schools in poor communities and needy students in the 1994 law, which became the basis for the measure passed late last year. Title 1, the heart of ESEA, provides money to help poor students achieve more in the classroom.
"This snapshot of the states' status with respect to the 1994 Title 1 requirements suggests that many states may not be well-positioned to meet the requirements added in 2001," the GAO found.
Only 17 of the 50 states have set up acceptable standards of learning and examination systems that measure how well low-income students are doing, yardsticks which were required to be in place by now. "Therefore a majority of states will still be working on meeting the 1994 requirements as they begin work toward meeting the new requirements," the report concludes.
The two areas where most states are not in compliance with the 1994 law have to do with testing. The survey found that statewide exams aren't closely aligned with learning goals and states still haven't set up systems for breaking down the test results by factors such as school, gender, race, ability to speak English and income.
State officials said compliance stalled because they invested in tests that conflicted with the 1994 law before the law was written. Many states have been reforming education by setting learning goals and testing for more than ten years. Typically testing companies contract with a state for multiple years.
"Respondents said that they had made substantial investments of time and money" in pre-made tests, but the 1994 law requires tests tailored to specific state learning goals, the GAO said.
David Shreve, a lobbyist on state education issues for the National Conference of State Legislatures agrees. "The federal law stops state (initiated reforms) dead in its tracks and forces states to go back and start the whole process over, including scraping what was budgeted and starting from scratch."
Of the states that did meet the 1994 law's deadlines, those surveyed said they did so because lawmakers and business leaders made it a priority. They said coordination among agencies was also helpful and getting local communities to buy into the reforms - sometimes employing public relations campaigns to do so - made a big difference.
To read the full report go to: GAO and click on reports released April 2.