Paige Adds Flexibility on Test Participation; Student Absences Hurt Smaller Schools

Article excerpt

Byline: George Archibald, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Education Secretary Rod Paige yesterday announced that states would be given added flexibility to meet testing requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act.

In order to meet the requirement that 95 percent of all public school students be tested each year for reading and mathematics proficiency, schools will be permitted to omit students from the count who have "a significant medical emergency" that causes absence on test days, the secretary said.

Also, in years when the count of tested students falls below 95 percent, schools may average test-participation rates over three years in order to meet the requirement to document "adequate yearly progress" of students in reading and math, he said.

Mr. Paige said he approved the new testing rule because many small schools with fewer than 30 students in various subgroups could not meet the 95 percent requirement.

Those schools were experiencing substantial "heartburn," he said, because the absence of only one or two students on test day caused them to be labeled as "low-performing" under the education law's "adequate yearly progress" measure.

However, Mr. Paige said no other changes in enforcement of the school reform law were under consideration, and that a request of 14 state school chiefs to relax other accountability provisions of the law would require a congressional change that the administration opposes.

"The law needs to be given an opportunity to work," Mr. Paige said. "It is the heart and soul of the law to assess all students. ... It is not only absolutely reasonable, it should be expected. This is something we must do as a nation."

In Orlando, Fla., yesterday, first lady Laura Bush compared critics of the education law to segregationists, citing the 1954 Supreme Court case that struck down "separate but equal" schools.

"At the time of Brown v. Board of education, some people thought black children didn't deserve to be in the same classroom as white children. ... Now today, there are still some people who believe some children can't achieve high standards," said Mrs. Bush, a former Texas schoolteacher and librarian. …