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Changes Made in Testing of Recent Immigrants

WASHINGTON, Feb. 19 Amid growing opposition to the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind, federal officials announced on Thursday that the test scores of recent immigrants who do not speak English would no longer be considered in determining whether a school was meeting annual targets for academic progress.

The change is expected to relieve pressure on public schools with immigrant populations. Until now, those schools had been required to test newcomers in reading and math during their first year in this country, before many of them have had a chance to learn English. Because of that, education advocacy groups have long complained that the law essentially forced failure on schools with large immigrant populations.

Under the law's strict provisions for demonstrating adequate progress by each subgroup of students English-language learners, disabled students, minority students and the poor almost 30 percent of American public schools have been labeled "in need of improvement."

Education Department officials said they did not know how many of the schools would have escaped that designation if today's rules had been written into the original law, which President Bush signed two years ago. But Ron Tomalis, an adviser to Education Secretary Rod Paige, said that in some states where department officials had analyzed test results, the list of subpar schools could shrink by 20 percent to 25 percent.

Under the changes, which came after months of deliberation, students who do not speak English will have a year during which they will presumably learn the language before they must take the standardized tests in reading and math. Schools may administer English proficiency, language arts and math exams to immigrant students in that first year, but the scores will not count toward a school's academic ranking.

"It's a win-win for both students and schools," Dr. Paige said at a news conference here at which the Cuban-born musician and songwriter Jon Secada spoke in support of No Child Left Behind.

Dr. Paige said the new rules were not a direct response to criticism of the law, but he acknowledged that the Education Department was concerned about the complaints.

Education advocates praised Thursday's move, but said it should have come sooner.

"The shame of it is that it took the department more than two years to offer such a simple, common-sense solution to a problem that has been bedeviling implementation efforts from the beginning," said Ross Weiner, policy director at the Education Trust, a nonprofit advocacy group that helped write the law.

"The delay in issuing these simple rules raises disturbing questions about the Bush administration's commitment to making the law work," Mr. Weiner said.

A second change to the law is extremely technical, but important to schools. Schools may now continue counting foreign students in the subgroup of students learning English for two years after they have learned the language. The change comes in response to schools' concern that the subgroup of English learners would, by definition, always ensure a school's failure if students moved out of the subgroup once the school succeeded in teaching them English.

The Education Department had already granted that change to several states, including California and Georgia, that had requested permission individually, said Diane Rentner, deputy director of the Center on Education Policy, a nonprofit research and policy organization.

— Diane Jean Schemo
Changes Made in Test Rules of School Law
New York Times
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/02/20/education/20CHIL.html
02-20-04


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