- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2005

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings yesterday told 23 state school chiefs and other education leaders that states must earn their right to flexibility under the accountability requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

“States seeking additional flexibility will get credit for the work they have done for reform of their educational system as a whole,” she told the leaders at a meeting specially called to underscore the administration’s insistence on testing and improved student achievement requirements of No Child Left Behind.

“States that understand this new way of doing things will be gratified. It makes sense, plain and simple. Others looking for loopholes to simply take the federal funds, ignore the intent of the law and have minimal results to show for their millions of dollars in federal funds will think otherwise and be disappointed,” Mrs. Spellings said.

All 50 state school chiefs were invited to the announcement, but fewer than half attended the event at Mount Vernon where Mrs. Spellings announced a concession regarding testing and advancement of disabled children.

She said the department would increase from 1 percent to 2 percent the number of children with “persistent academic disabilities” whose progress may be assessed according to a child’s abilities under an individualized education plan required by federal law for the handicapped.

One percent of severely and moderately disabled students currently may be exempted from No Child Left Behind requirements to reach grade-level proficiency in reading and mathematics by the 2013-14 school year.

The change increases the so-called “safe-harbor” exemption category for all special-education children from 1 percent to 3 percent — a change for which public schools in all states have been clamoring since No Child Left Behind was implemented in 2002.

The new policy would allow students with academic disabilities to take tests “specifically geared toward their abilities,” Mrs. Spellings said.

She said the department is working “to find appropriate ways that growth models — ways to capture individual student progress from year to year — might be used to measure academic achievement,” in lieu of rigid timetables to reach grade-level proficiency in reading and math, Mrs. Spellings said.

The changes were greeted with approval by school leaders in Utah, where a serious legislative challenge has been leveled against No Child Left Behind.

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a Republican, has called a special session of the state Legislature April 20 to reconsider a measure — supported by a veto-proof majority of both houses — to have state education achievement standards, not No Child Left Behind, govern academic progress. The administration seeks to avoid the embarrassment of a Republican-controlled Legislature repudiating No Child Left Behind.

“My guess is, if Utah’s growth-model plan is approved, there will not be a special session,” said Patti Harrington, the state’s superintendent of public instruction. Utah submitted a revised plan last Friday.

“What I heard today is there will be some openness [to Utah’s proposals], which is very encouraging,” said Tim Bridgewater, Mr. Huntsman’s education deputy.

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