- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2005

RICHMOND — Federal education officials have granted Virginia some flexibility in how it applies the No Child Left Behind law, but rejected other measures sought by the state Department of Education.

In January, Virginia asked the U.S. Department of Education for waivers from certain provisions of the law, which seeks to have all students, regardless of race, poverty or disability, be proficient in reading and math by 2014. On Monday, the department granted four waivers, which took effect immediately, state education spokeswoman Julie Grimes said.

The federal government will allow the state to count students who fail Standards of Learning exams but pass retakes as “proficient” in calculating a school’s “adequate yearly progress.” Under the act, schools that don’t make adequate yearly progress risk expensive consequences, including being forced to pay for their students to transfer to higher-performing schools.

Also, students with disabilities and English learners who earn diplomas within the time set by their individualized education plan or their English-proficiency team will be classified as graduating on time. Under NCLB, on-time graduation takes place after four years of high school or less.

Other provisions approved were:

• Only school divisions that don’t increase test scores in the same subject area across all grades for two straight years will be identified as “needing improvement.” The law requires that schools that fail to increase overall test scores be placed in the improvement category.

• The state may establish a minimum of 50 students or 1 percent of the enrolled student population up to 200 students — whichever is greater — in a subgroup before that subgroup is counted separately in determining adequate yearly progress. The state now uses 50 students as the minimum cutoff for a group to be classified as a subgroup under NCLB.

Rejected were requests to:

• Allow school divisions to limit students eligible for school transfers or tutoring in subgroups that didn’t make adequate yearly progress.

• Count as “proficient” students with disabilities who show a year’s academic progress on instructional-level tests.

• Limit penalties on schools in which the same student subgroup fails to make two-year progress in reading, math or both.

• Use other indicators in determining adequate yearly progress in schools or school divisions that don’t make NCLB benchmarks.

Still pending is a request seeking permission to provide tutoring to students in Title I schools before giving them the option of switching schools. Title I schools have a high percentage of low-income students and receive federal funds to boost educational programs.

In April, the federal education department denied Virginia’s request for exemption from testing the reading and writing skills of kindergarten and first-grade English learners. Federal law requires annual testing of language proficiency of children learning English; native speakers aren’t tested in reading until third grade.

Enacted in 2002, No Child Left Behind is considered one of the most significant federal education laws in 40 years. One of its goals is to improve the education of minority and low-income students, those with disabilities and those with limited English skills.

The law calls for students to be tested in math and reading in the third through eighth grades and once in high school, and it requires schools to show annual progress in test scores.

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