Rules aim to beef up 'No Child' law
Associated Press
April 23, 2008


Ariz. schools boss calls plans focusing on minorities, dropouts meaningless

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration sought to bolster its signature education law Tuesday, announcing rules designed to address the nation's dropout problem and ensure attention is paid to minority students' achievement.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced that among the proposed changes being made to the No Child Left Behind law is a new requirement that by the 2012-13 school year, all states would have to calculate their graduation rates in a uniform way.

States currently use all kinds of methods to determine graduation rates, many of which are based on unreliable information about school dropouts.
States will be told to count graduates, in most cases, as students who leave on time with a regular degree. Research indicates students who take extra time or get alternatives to diplomas, such as a GED, generally don't do as well in college or in the workforce.

Although states will no longer be able to use their own methods for calculating grad rates, they still will be able to set their own goals for getting more students to graduate. Critics say that may allow some states to continue setting weak improvement goals.

The administration's proposed regulations would require schools to be judged not only on how the overall student body does but also on the percentage of minority students who graduate. Nationally, an estimated 70 percent of students graduate on time with a regular diploma. For Hispanic and black students, the proportion drops to about half.

Critics of the 6-year-old education law have complained that judging schools on test scores but not, to the same degree, on graduation rates has created an incentive for schools to push weak students out or into non-diploma tracks.

No Child Left Behind requires testing in reading and math in Grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. The stated goal is to get all kids doing math and reading at their proper grade level by 2013-14.

Spellings has been taking steps in recent months to make changes to the law from her perch, after efforts to rewrite the bill in Congress stalled. The proposed regulations amount to the most comprehensive set of administrative changes she has sought so far.

Arizona schools superintendent Tom Horne called Spellings' new proposals meaningless window dressing by a lame-duck administration. The Republican, in his second term, has long been critical of the federal system, which he calls "utterly irrational." Arizona law created a more reasonable and accurate system to test and evaluate schools and help those who are struggling, he said.

"No Child Left Behind needs a much more thorough overhaul than this," Horne said. "We need to see what the next president wants to do."

The regulations call for a federal review of state policies regarding the exclusion of test scores of students in racial groups deemed too small to be statistically significant or so small that student privacy could be jeopardized.

The administration is seeking public comments before finalizing the rules in the fall.

Republic reporter Pat Kossan contributed to this article.