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Utahns Challenge School Standards

Two Utah lawmakers already are hatching plans to loosen -- if not ignore -- new federal standards that this week labeled a third of the state's public schools inadequate.

Rep. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, plans to push a bill next month that would direct the state to opt out of the federal No Child Left Behind
Act, which holds schools accountable for improving student achievement among all demographic groups. If the state pulled out, it would stand to lose more than $100 million annually in Title I money and other federal
funds.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, is co-sponsoring two measures to amend testing and funding provisions of No Child Left Behind.

Both lawmakers say the 2001 law oversteps its bounds.

"Good principles make good politics, and there's a bad principle in play here," Dayton said. "That bad principle is that our neighborhood schools will be accountable to the feds instead of parents and communities."

Federal officials say the law forces schools to confront and address achievement gaps among students of different ethnic and socioeconomic
groups.

Utah children have stacked up well against their peers nationwide, but that doesn't mean there is no room for improvement, said Eugene
Hickok, undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

"You're not as good as you think you are," Hickok said in an interview. "We can do better. There are students being left behind."

He was in Salt Lake City on Tuesday to speak at a dinner hosted by school-choice advocates.

The law requires states to track achievement by students' race or ethnicity, socioeconomic status, English proficiency and
special-education status.

Schools that miss annual goals in one of 40 categories land on a "watch list" designed to compel them to address their deficiencies.
Schools that receive federal Title I money for disadvantaged students face sanctions if they miss the same goal for two or more consecutive
years.

Matheson is co-sponsoring one bill that would render the law moot if the federal government doesn't provide money to pay for the reforms. A second bill -- one of about a dozen targeting No Child Left Behind -- would allow states greater flexibility in how test results for students with disabilities factor into overall school performance.

"The original concept was a good idea, and that's why it passed Congress with massive bipartisan support," Matheson said. "I started to develop a different viewpoint when I saw how the bill was being implemented. The department [of education] took a very rigid interpretation that deviated from what was the general intent of Congress."

Hickok disagrees.

Upon further review of the law and associated budget bills, he said, critics would discover more money and less federal involvement than they think.

"We create the framework, but the rest comes from the state," Hickok said. "States do 85 percent of the decision-making."

Dayton scoffed at the notion.

"Well guess what? The law is over 600 pages long with a 600-page explanatory book, and there is not as much local control as we are used to having, as we are capable of and as I think we should have." Note

* Four schools in the Murray district -- McMillan Elementary, Viewmont Elementary, Hillcrest Junior and Riverview Junior -- did not make adequate yearly progress (AYP). A single "no" in any of 40 categories means a school does not meet AYP. All results are preliminary and can be found at http://www.usoe.org.

— Ronnie Lynn
Utahns Challenge School Standards
Salt Lake Tribune


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