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Friday, September 12, 2008

Charlie Dent: Every Child Has Right to Academic Tools Needed to Succeed

Statement of Rep. Charlie Dent, Co-Chair, Tuesday Group
Before the Committee on Education and Labor NCLB Reauthorization Priorities

"Good Afternoon. Thank you for allowing me to present on behalf of the Tuesday Group today. Congressman Mark Kirk of IL and I are the co-chairs of the Caucus. Congressman Kirk couldn't be here today but he, as well as many from our group, has contributed to this presentation. While tie Members of our Caucus do not all share a unified proposal for reauthorizing No Child Left Behind, we do agree that several components require attention from this Committee.

"I think we can all agree that NCLB, legislation which was built on the foundation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, can help us confront one of our nation's greatest challenges — ensuring that every child receives the academic tools they need to succeed in the future. The questions we must ask throughout the reauthorization process, however, are: What parts of the law are working or not working to benefit American students?

"Several members felt strongly that the following aspects of the law should be examined during the reauthorization process to make certain we can make this legislation as strong as possible:

"First, we must examine determinations of Annual Yearly Progress (AYP), specifically for subgroups such as limited English students (or LEP) and special education students. Currently, many teachers and school administrators are concerned that they may not make AYP or continue to be categorized as a school in need of improvement because of the way specific groups of students' assessments —such as LEP and Special Education students— are integrated into AYP calculations. Members of the Tuesday Group suggest a number of ways to possibly address this including:

* Allowing schools to use Individualized Education Plans (lEPs) of the most disabled children to measure progress,
* Increasing the percentage of students with disabilities that are assessed using alternative or modified state standards and alternative or modified state assessments, and/or
* Having separate and distinct goal-oriented assessments for special education and limited English student subgroups. This may very well mean codifying current Department regulations.

"Building upon assessments in NCLB, one Member of the Tuesday Group suggested that states making AYP consistently should be allowed to opt out of annual testing and be allowed to test every other year.

"Our group also suggests that current regulations addressing students whose primary language is not English should be re-examined. It is hard to expect students who do not speak English to leam how to read and write in English fluently within a one year time period. We suggest that modifications be made in this area to make sure we are obtaining accurate results from limited English students' assessments.

"Also regarding AYP, several Members of the Tuesday Group suggest, without weakening any of the current accountability provisions for AYP — and maintaining the goal of having students reaching grade level by the 2013-2014 school year — using growth models to help demonstrate achievement levels for the purpose of meeting proficiency requirements and credit the schools and districts for making progress. The current 'group status model' in NCLB continues to raise concern that student achievement results may not be as accurate as possible. We feel that 'growth models' may help show individual student growth and give an overall more accurate assessment of student and school achievement.

"While it is important to stay focused on our nation's students, we must also consider our nation's teachers throughout the reauthorization process. Concerning Tide I of NCLB, Members of the Tuesday Group suggest extending the deadline for 100% of teachers to meet NCLB's "highly qualified" requirements in hard-to-staff areas, as well as revising the definition of "highly qualified teachers" to address specific groups of teachers, such as special education teachers and ESL teachers.

"Graduation and Dropout rates are other aspects of NCLB that need to be addressed through the reauthorization process. There seems to be a new report in the media each day of increasing high school dropout rates. Unfortunately, we do not have an accurate idea of how serious the problem is because of the numerous ways high school graduation rates and dropout rates are calculated. Current graduation rates also do not take into consideration students who take longer than four years to graduate. Additionally, these inaccurate numbers may negatively influence AYP results. Our group recommends addressing this problem by creating a single calculation of graduation rates.

"American Competitiveness is another important issue facing our nation. To keep our economy relevant on a global scale, America must address gaps in our early education systems in the critical areas of math and science. Therefore, Members of the Tuesday Group recommend strengthening math and science education standards, holding schools accountable for student performance in science, and increasing funding for teacher professional development in math and science — all in order to curb our current decline in the professions dependent on this core instruction.

"Other suggestions the Tuesday Group recommends include: funding to help students and schools meet assessment requirements, and funding directed towards small rural districts which have experienced significant drops in Tide I allocations in recent years.

"The Tuesday Group feels that by addressing these issues during the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, we can improve upon this important piece of legislation. Thank you again for allowing me to speak with you today on behalf of the Tuesday Group— we appreciate your willingness to hear from both Caucuses and individuals and we look forward to working with all of you as the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind moves forward."

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