Friday, September 28, 2007

College and Workforce Preparedness meet 21st Century Skills (NCLB)
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Lawmakers step up NCLB renewal process

21st-century skills, data-driven instruction are areas of focus in new House draft proposal

From eSchool News staff and wire service reports
September 6, 2007

College and workforce preparedness, 21st-century skills, and the use of data to inform instruction are among the new points of emphasis in a draft version of a bill to reauthorize the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

Proposed by Rep. George Miller, Democratic chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, and the committee's senior Republican member, Buck McKeon, the draft bill is a response to "two dozen hearings in D.C., a review of written recommendations from more than 100 education groups, and conversations with constituents and colleagues in Congress," the two lawmakers say.

The proposal calls for extensive revisions to the nation's education law. It would focus more on low-performing high schools in an effort to boost graduation rates, and it would offer greater flexibility in assessing and measuring school and student progress--especially for special-needs students and those just learning English. In addition, it would distinguish between schools that narrowly fail to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and those that significantly miss AYP goals.

"This draft is a work in progress, subject to change in the coming weeks as the committee moves a bill through the legislative process," Miller and McKeon write. "However, we believe it represents a starting point from which to receive input."

The draft legislation would create a Graduation Promise Fund, which would establish new resources for high schools with the lowest graduation rates. These resources would support data-driven instruction, staff collaboration and professional development, and individualized student support--including counseling services for students at risk of dropping out.

The House draft also would provide incentives for states to develop standards aligned with the skills needed for success in the 21st century, such as problem solving, critical thinking, and collaborative skills.

In addition, it would allow states to use more than a single test for accountability purposes. States could use multiple, state-developed tests taken at different points in time to measure AYP, and they could consider more than just reading and math test results. Under this scenario, for example, schools could get credit for student performance on history, civics, or science exams, as well as for improvement in graduation or college enrollment rates.

The draft bill also would let states include students' academic growth over time in their definition of AYP. To use such a "growth model," states would need to have in place a longitudinal data system that can compare the progress of the same students from year to year.

In addition, the proposal would treat schools that fail to meet AYP in only one or two subgroups differently from those that fail to meet AYP in several subgroups.

The draft creates two separate categories for schools in need of improvement: "Priority Schools" and "High Priority Schools." And it offers a range of intervention options for these schools, including formative assessments and data-driven instruction.

The House proposal also allow states to measure how well students first learning English are doing at acquiring language skills, instead of judging these students on standard reading tests. The substitute test would only be allowed, however, for two years after the law is enacted.

During that time, states would be expected to develop alternative tests for limited-English speakers--such as tests using simplified English.

The draft proposal would encourage states to develop foreign-language reading and math tests, and it would allow students to be tested in their native language for five years instead of three.

School officials nationwide have complained it makes no sense to give subject-area tests in English to students who don't know how to read English well.

However, not everyone likes this proposed change: It would take the pressure off schools to get kids up to speed quickly in English, says Amy Wilkens, vice president of the Education Trust, a nonprofit organization that advocates for poor and minority kids.

"It's too long," Wilkens said, referring to the newly proposed grace period. "That seems to me a terrible disservice to those kids and these families."

Reaction from some other education groups to the draft proposal was more encouraging.

"Chairman Miller and ranking member McKeon, along with their colleagues and staff, should be applauded for creating an open process and dialogue on the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act," said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. "The staff discussion draft marks a true step forward for high school reform at the federal level."

Wise said his organization looks forward to working with Congress "to ensure that this reauthorization includes the best policy for our nation's high school students." But he added that, regardless of any proposed changes to NCLB, adequate funding is "critical to the success of school improvement efforts."

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