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Michigan Goes to Fed NCLB on Bended Knee

LANSING -- Hundreds of schools could be dropped from a list of so-called "failing schools" under a new Michigan request to the Bush administration.

And, pushed by some West Michigan school administrators, Michigan will negotiate with federal officials to allow non-English speaking students three years in the United States before they have to take the state MEAP tests.

Federal law requires annual testing of all students in grades three through eight by 2005-2006.

The state Department of Education filed its application Friday to comply with the year-old No Child Left Behind legislation.

In it, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Watkins asked that Michigan be allowed to go back in time and recalculate its "adequate yearly progress" based on new formulas approved last year by the state Board of Education.

Watkins said that Michigan adopted higher standards earlier than other states, and is now being penalized for that.

"Michigan educators have generally welcomed the challenge of NCLB. However, there is an underlying feeling among many that Michigan is being punished for having been a leader,'' Watkins said in a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige.

In July, a federal report said Michigan had 1,500 schools in need of improvement, more than any other state. There are about 3,500 public schools in the state.

The latest change would drop the number to an estimated 400 to 600 schools, said T.J. Bucholz, the department spokesman.

Ray Telman, executive director of the Middle Cities Education Association, which represents urban schools, said it's only fair.

"I'm encouraged by the fact that what we've done is put up standards here that ... don't create the appearance that Michigan has more failing schools than is justified,'' he said Monday.

But Jim Sandy, with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, said, "we're not excited about the fact they're lowering standards.'' Even with that criticism, though, he said the plan is a "fair compromise.''

Bucholz said the state is not lowering standards. Part of the plan calls for letter grades for each school, based on test scores and other factors.

"I don't know of a higher standard the state can hold an individual school building to than the prospect of a letter grade,'' he said.

Under Michigan's old standards set in 1994, 75 percent of a school's students had to pass MEAP in four subject areas to make adequate yearly progress. Schools could also meet the standard if 10 percent more of their students passed the tests than was the case the previous year.

In November, the state Board of Education voted to change the standard, requiring anywhere from 31 percent to 47 percent of a school's students to pass in just two subjects, math and reading. The percent gradually increases to 100 percent passing in 2013-14, as required by federal law.

Those that don't make the adequate yearly progress are required to provide transportation to schools with better test scores and many were to offer tutoring and other services to students. That was supposed to start at the beginning of the school year, but state officials have been rethinking earlier standards.

On Monday, a group of federal officials came to Michigan to object to last month's resolution by the state Board of Education on testing limited-English students.

Encouraged by Holland and Kentwood school superintendents, the state Board of Education voted to exempt non-English speaking students from testing for three years while the state develops other ways to test those students.

"They made a very strong statement that what the board had done was not in compliance with the law,'' Deputy Superintendent Jeremy Hughes said. At risk is $1 million in federal funds.

There were 50,021 limited English proficiency students out of 1.7 million Michigan public school students last year, according to the Center for Educational Performance and Information.

West Michigan educators say they're trying to do what's best for kids. In Kent County Intermediate School District, students speak 55 different native languages

"There's enough frustration for children. Let's not pile it on here,'' said Kent ISD Superintendent Mike Weiler.

Melinda Malico, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education, said states have been required to test that group of students since the 1994 Elementary Secondary Education Act and again in the 2001 No Child Left Behind legislation.

"We have concerns about the policy of exempting the (limited English) kids,'' she said. "Under the 1994 ESEA and No Child Left Behind, these kids must be tested.''

— Judy Putnam
Michigan asks feds to allow it to change determination of 'failing schools'
Muskegon Chronicle
Feb. 4, 2003


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