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Gov. Perry Enters No Child Fray
WASHINGTON - Gov. Rick Perry, one of the most stalwart backers of President Bush's No Child Left Behind education policy, said Sunday that he nevertheless backs the Texas education commissioner's challenge to the federal law over standardized testing of special-education students.
Texas exempted nearly 10 times the desired number of students from regular standardized testing, even after its request for a waiver to do so was denied by the U.S. Department of Education, which is led by former Houstonian Margaret Spellings.
"Dr. (Shirley) Neeley is the commissioner," Perry said at the National Governors Association education summit in Washington. "She makes the daily decisions, and I support her and the Texas Education Agency."
Despite the state's apparent defiance of national requirements, Perry said that Texas public schools, and their alignment with No Child Left Behind, are exemplary.
When asked how he reconciled that claim with Neeley's action, the governor said, "One of the things we find is that one shoe is not going to fit all 50 states.
"We are working closely with Secretary Spellings in integrating No Child Left Behind."
The federal government requires that schools exempt no more than 1 percent of their students from testing because of learning disabilities. Any additional students must be counted as "failing."
This year, nearly 10 percent of all students didn't take the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills because of such special-education needs. Instead, they took a state-mandated alternative test.
The change in Texas had the effect of reducing the number of "failing" students sixfold, according to the education agency numbers released Friday.
Texas receives more than $1 billion in federal money tied to compliance with No Child Left Behind. Some funds could be in jeopardy, depending on how federal officials react to Neeley's decision.
Texas' approach is the latest link in a nationwide chain of state policymakers bucking the federal act, which was partly modeled after the president's initiatives as governor.
Fifteen other states have introduced legislation in the last two months challenging No Child Left Behind, and the Utah Senate is prepared to vote on a bill, already passed by the House, to give higher priority to state education laws.
"You're going to see more and more states go that way," said Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, the National Governors Association chairman.
"I want to give the new secretary (Spellings) the benefit of the doubt. She said she would be more cooperative."
Acknowledging other states' bumpy adaptation process, Perry said, "They may see it as, 'Oh my God, we can't do this.' Well, the fact is, we did it."
Perry also announced that Texas has joined the American Diploma Project network with Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.
The states are committed to raising high school academic standards and better aligning curricula with the demands of postsecondary education and work.
The states will ask high schools to prepare all graduates for college or work and hold colleges accountable for the success of their students.
Texas is already in compliance with most of the agreement's rules.
The state Higher Education Coordinating Board adopted a program that made college preparatory courses the standard curriculum in all high schools in 2000, when Perry was the lieutenant governor. Perry backed it later as governor.
"For the first time, a group of states will reshape an American institution that has far outlasted its effectiveness," said Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, co-chair of the Washington-based Achieve Inc., which will coordinate the effort. "More than 5 million American students each year — 35 percent of public school students nationwide — will be expected to meet higher requirements under this landmark initiative. This is the biggest step states can take to restore the value of the high school diploma."
AMERICAN DIPLOMA PROJECT
A total of 13 states have signed on to support the American Diploma Project, which aims to get all students ready for college or work. Specifically, the states committed to:
• Align their high school standards and tests with the skills required in college and the workplace. Colleges and universities would have to clearly define the skills required for their credit-bearing courses, and states would be expected to adjust their English and math standards.
• Require all students to take a test of their readiness for college or work so that children can get help where needed while still in high school.
• Require all students to take a core curriculum that prepares them for college or work. States would have to ensure that rigorous-sounding courses have the content to match.
• Hold high schools and colleges more accountable for graduating their students. States would have to improve data collection to track individual students through all grades and college.
-- The Associated Press
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