Change to Education Law Eases Student Testing Participation

Article excerpt

For the fourth time in as many months, the Bush administration is easing the restrictions of its education law, this time in the area of testing. The latest move is to reduce the number of students a school may test without running afoul of the law.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires schools to test at least 95 percent of students in math and reading. Schools also must have 95 percent participation from all major subgroups of students, such as minority or disabled youngsters.

The point is to make sure that schools are accountable for every student's progress, and to ensure that no schools have incentive to exclude lower-performing students on test days.

Under the new policy, schools will get some leeway. As long as they average a 95 percent participation rate among students over two or three years, schools will meet the law.

A school that tested 94 percent of students one year, for example, could make the mark if it tested 96 percent of students the year before. The same is true for subgroups of students.

Schools also won't have to count students who are enrolled but miss testing, including makeup exams, because of a medical emergency.

The changes are meant to fix a problem that has surfaced anecdotally: schools that fail to meet the federal standard just because a few students miss a test. There is no documentation of how often that has happened, but it can lead to consequences.

Schools that get federal poverty aid but don't make progress goals at least two straight years face mounting sanctions, from having to offer transfers to risking state takeover.

"We are listening to parents and educators and making adjustments," Education Secretary Roderick Paige said in announcing the new policy late last month to the National School Boards Association conference in Orlando, Fla. …