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Many states leave behind education law

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More than 20 states have procrastinated in meeting the No Child Left Behind law's requirement that all students reach grade-level proficiency by 2014 and will be hard-pressed to make needed improvements before the deadline, a report released today shows.

The Center on Education Policy (CEP) issued its report at the midway point of the 2002 NCLB law, which requires states to bring all students to grade-level proficiency in reading and math by 2014 and allows each state to set up its own track to get there.

The report — titled "Many States Have Taken a 'Backloaded' Approach to No Child Left Behind Goal of All Students Scoring 'Proficient' " — found that 23 states structured their systems so the bulk of the progress would be made in the final years leading up to the 2014 deadline.

"The essence of it is that unless Herculean efforts are made, the goal of reaching proficiency for all children will not be met," said Jack Jennings, president and chief executive officer of CEP, a national independent group that advocates for effective public schools. He compared the states' situation to "a mortgage payment that is about to balloon far beyond [a homeowner's] current ability to pay."

Oregon is one of those states, but school officials there said they are moving on track to achieve the proficiency goal by 2014.

Gene Evans, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Education, said part of the reason that Oregon allowed itself more leeway upfront was so the state could implement a state-of-the-art online testing program. He said Oregon Superintendent Susan Castillo strongly supports the 100 percent proficiency target and that the state is on solid ground.

"Those last steps are steep, but we certainly feel we made progress and we're in a place that sets us up well for the challenge," Mr. Evans said.

The NCLB law has been criticized by many politicians, education officials and teachers as being far too harsh on overwhelmed schools without providing enough funding to get the job done.

The CEP report found that 25 states and the District set more incremental, steady goals for their proficiency levels from 2002 to 2014. Kansas and Florida set up plans that don't fit into either category, the report noted.

Some states likely set the bar low in the first years of the law in order to give themselves time to create new test systems while others likely hoped that Washington would relax the requirements along the way, the report noted.

Mr. Jennings said the proficiency goal is a steep challenge for all states. A Department of Education (DOE) report last year found that most states are improving the percentage of students at the proficient level, but projected that most states would not meet the 100 percent proficient goal by 2014 unless the pace picked up.

Still, those states that delayed their toughest goals "face the most dramatic challenge," Mr. Jennings said.

In Oregon, 50 percent of students reached proficiency in reading and remained steady from 2005 to 2007. That number will jump to 60 percent and remain steady from 2008 to 2010, and will increase by 10 percentage points each year beginning in 2011, the report noted.

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