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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

Jan. 5 to 9, 2004

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1    Special ed changing, new policy helps students and teachers / Nashville City Paper (Nashville, TN)
2    NCLB's Federalism / Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME)
3    Local teachers fear fallout from federal education act  / Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel (Maine)
4    Pediatricians urge schools to drop pop / Sun Times
5    Bush talks about school success / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
6    Dean criticizes No Child Left Behind Act / Sapula Daily Herald (OK)
7    Schools sue over state aid / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
8    Coke, Pepsi to cut school presence / Chicago Tribune
9    U.S. teens fatter, study finds / Education Week
10  Judge deals another blow to voucher plan / Rocky Mountain News
11  Democrats broaden attack on school law / Boston Globe
12  South Dakota schools limit, dump vending machines / Boston Globe
13  New National Survey Shows Unwavering Public Support for No Child Left Behind Education Reforms, Boehner Says / US News Wire
14  Study: Schools Unfairly Funded / The Express Times
15  Special Needs, Common Goals / Education Week

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Special ed changing, new policy helps students and teachers
By Katharine Alden, Nashville City Paper, January 05, 2004

This week the door opens a little further for students with disabilities and the educators who teach them.

A resolution goes into effect Thursday, broadening how students with disabilities can be assessed and counted as proficient under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the primary federal K-12 education law.

When the law was written, students with disabilities were required to be tested the same as all other students.

A resolution finalized December 9 permanently changes the way the law treats students with disabilities.

“The law didn’t make any provision for these students. It said all kids should be held at the same achievement standards,” said Kerri Briggs of the U.S. Department of Education’s office of elementary and secondary education. “Now, schools can get credit for the good work they do with students who have significant issues.”

While all students still must be tested, schools will not be “targeted” if their students with significant cognitive disabilities cannot meet the same standards as their peers.

-An unlimited number of students may be given different assessments than their peers to meet their individual needs, including tests based on different grade-level standards.

-Any student who takes an alternative test based on actual grade-level standards may be counted proficient.

-One percent of students given off-grade-level tests may be counted as proficient. These tests are intended for students with significant cognitive disabilities, a term which each state may now define instead of adhering to a previous federal definition.

-The one percent cap may be increased for districts or states that can show proof of having a higher percentage of students with significant cognitive disabilities.

“Are they known for having exceptional services? Is there a special hospital? It may be small state, so one percent doesn’t make sense,” said Briggs, explaining cases where the cap may need to be raised.

The option of giving a student an off-grade-level test is perhaps the most significant development, according to Al Mance, executive director of the Tennessee Education Association.

“I think it’s a breakthrough for the federal department because they are recognizing that the one-size-fits-all system really does not make sense for a number of students,” Mance said.

“We are never going to be at a time when everybody learns the same things, at the same rate, at the same time,” he added.

Some educators have asked if the resolution will apply retroactively to 2002-2003 assessments in case some schools might be taken off the “needs improvement” or targeted list, but Briggs said it is not likely. 

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NCLB's Federalism  
Bangor Daily News Editorial

If a hallmark of the Reagan presidency was the New Federalism, in which funds to state and local governments were cut and responsibilities shifted downward, the current administration might be credited with encouraging a bottom-up Calculated Federalism, in which states align their governing with their funding. This may be most true with No Child Left Behind  , the federal school funding and reform act.

A lawsuit last month by the Reading, Pa., school district against Pennsylvania over NCLB may have seemed dramatic, but it was a relatively calm response that reflects a lot of anger at the school-district level. According to news reports, Reading sued for lack adequate technical and financial assistance that would allow it to comply with the act. Inadequate resources amount to unfunded mandates, which the government is not supposed to issue. But a lawsuit, at least, provides an impartial judge to review the records. Other states seem to have reached their conclusions before all the evidence was in, though their frustration is understandable.

Utah, Vermont, North Dakota, Indiana and Ohio have all required studies to see whether the new federal spending matches the new required costs. What is important with all these states, however, is not only whether the two sides of the ledger balance but what happens if they do not. Unlike Pennsylvania, other states will not sue, some will simply say no thanks to the federal education money, such as Title 1, and opt out of NCLB. They are doing this after the National Conference of State Legislatures met with the Bush administration and reportedly was told the administration was not willing to change the law.

This is a perilous path because NCLB's outcome-based reporting doesn't lead education reform; it follows what the states have been doing for several years. Maine, for instance, had its state Learning Results long before Congress passed NCLB and would have the state program even if the federal program disappeared. And because there is broad overlap in the state and federal standards, some of the federal money used for NCLB also indirectly supports Learning Results. Calculations for how much NCLB costs must also include some costs for state programs, or state taxpayers will find themselves with larger bills should they opt out of NCLB.

Far better than trying to leave the federal program is to insist that it be simplified. Congress should step in here. NCLB's level of federal intrusion into state programs is too high, without any particular evidence that the federal government runs school systems better than the locals. The matrix for deciding whether various subgroups have made adequate yearly progress is too extensive, no matter how well intentioned, and should be simplified. Advocates for special-education students say rural states especially lack the specialists needed to comply with the standards.

These challenges can be met if the federal government learns to listen better and the states stop threatening to quit the act. Calculated Federalism is the mark of desperation; let's hope the states aren't pushed into it.

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Local teachers fear fallout from federal education act   
No Child Left Behind may kill public education
By COLIN HICKEY Staff Writer for the Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel

If No Child Left Behind were a movie, the opening night reviews surely would have killed it before it reached a theater near you.

But the massive federal education act, signed into law by President Bush last year, is not a celluloid creation but a reality that is here to stay, and one many educators say already has had a profound negative impact on education.

"It is really discouraging," said Dr. Barbara Jordan, curriculum coordinator for the Augusta School Department. "I'm really close to retirement, thank God, because this is no fun anymore, this piece of it. ... This piece really puts the kibosh on creativity in the classroom."

Jordan's sentiments are echoed by many in her profession, from state education leaders to school administrators to classroom teachers.

They argue that No Child Left Behind is a punitive initiative, inadequately funded, designed by politicians who have little understanding of public education and the vast differences between schools, both across the country and within each state.

They argue that No Child Left Behind calls for unrealistic goals that discourage educators and could lead to the downfall of public education and the rise of a system founded on private schools and vouchers.

"There is a real problem here -- no doubt about it," said Keith C. Harvie of the Maine Education Association.

FIRST OUTCRY

Accountability and student assessment have become the buzzwords in education, and, in Maine, the Maine Education Assessment test has become the measuring stick for the Adequate Yearly Progress that No Child Left Behind demands.

"I think every teacher in the state, whether in our district or outside our district, is really feeling the accountability crunch," School Administrative District 9 Assistant Superintendent Sue Pratt said. "We are in the era of accountability."

This fall, 123 Maine schools failed to measure up to the standards set, a development that caused educators across the state to decry the methodology that led to that failure list.

Some schools that scored well in regard to their general student population fell short when it came to certain subgroups, such as special education.

In other cases, schools did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress because they failed to meet the student participation standard, but for Maine, a state with a relatively sparse population and an abundance of small, rural schools, failure to meet participation standards could mean a handful of students did not complete the test or were out sick on the test day.

Jordan argues that the law was designed to punish failing, inner city schools.

"But we have a rural state and many of our schools are small schools, so the formulas do not help small schools," she said. "But then I don't think the law was designed to help anybody. I think the law was designed to get rid of public education as we know it."

Harvie said the failure list will grow -- and grow significantly -- in coming years. And he, too, sees NCLB putting public education in jeopardy.

"Within a short period of time 90 percent of Maine schools will be listed as failing," he said. "It is designed to make schools show up on the failure list so that money will go from public schools to private, for-profit schools."

Department of Education Deputy Commissioner Patrick Phillips does not make any predictions about NCLB's impact on funding or the state of public education.

But he does say that the law has transformed education.

"NCLB has in fact changed something fundamental about the landscape of public education," he said. "It has added a tremendously more public and possibly negative environment to that landscape, to the way we think about accountability."

TEACHER EXODUS?

In the opinion of many educators, that negative environment will lead a significant number of teachers to leave the profession and cause many prospective teachers to reconsider education as a career path.

Harvie, of the Maine Education Association, said a lot of veteran teachers already are worn out from the increasing load of responsibilities placed on public schools. No Child Left Behind, he said, increases that burden to the point many teachers will find unbearable.

"This generation of teachers out there right now are the ones that have made these schools so good," he said. "We have an aging population of school teachers, and it will not be easy to replace them."

Lea A. Williams, a first-grade teacher at Winslow Elementary School, is one of those veteran teachers, now in her 30th year in the profession.

Williams said the pressure to develop assessment tools and curriculum goals at both the local and state level has been going on for years. No Child Left Behind adds to that work load and with a punitive approach at that.

The result, she said, is a feeling of being overwhelmed and disrespected.

"We keep feeling that once this is all done, once all this assessment is done, we can take a breath. We can exhale ... but the chance to exhale never comes because more keeps getting dumped on us."

Jordan said teachers 40 or older, many of them with 20 years in education, constitute the largest percentage of the teaching staff. She predicts many of those teachers won't stay with the district much longer given the current school climate.

"My estimation is that in the next five years there will be a 30 percent turnover," she said.

Sherri Littlefield, a teacher at Warsaw Middle School in Pittsfield, said No Child Left Behind ignores the fact that students develop at different rates and that some subgroups of students simply are more limited in their academic ability whatever the teaching approach.

"In my mind, No Child Left Behind is not recognizing that, and it scares me," she said. "I come to school every day, and I work my tail off, and I grade papers late into the night, and now I'm not sure that that is enough."

More and more time, teachers say, is spent developing assessment tools to satisfy local, state and federal standards. Curricula, meanwhile, must be realigned or adapted so that the various standards can be met.

After educators develop these assessment tools and curricula, they must devote an ever-increasing portion of their day to determine whether students are meeting or on the path to meeting the standards.

"We are constantly assessing students, especially at the lower grades," Williams said. "It is an ongoing daily assessment. ... I think it just has become overwhelming and, sad to say, at a time when good teachers are hard to keep."

Littlefield said many teachers also think No Child Left Behind questions their qualifications, questions their ability to teach.

Mary Coombs, a science teacher at Winslow Junior High, says much the same.

"It is very frustrating to me that it is never good enough, that we are always at fault," she said. "It just gets discouraging."

Williams suggests No Child Left Behind 's impact will be more far reaching than people realize.

"I know a lot of people in my profession who are discouraging their children from going into teaching, and to me that is the most disturbing development of all," she said.

MEETING THE CHALLENGE

Not every teacher or administrator sees No Child Left Behind as the downfall of public education, and even critics say high standards are necessary and, if applied properly, can be a source of inspiration that fuels enthusiasm and dedication.

Enga Stewart, principal of Lincoln Elementary School in Augusta, said her staff and faculty are committed to taking on the hard work that meeting these federally mandated standards entails.

"The atmosphere here is that teachers know children have to go through this assessment, and we want them to be successful," she said.

Stewart said to ensure a positive climate her school puts a premium on providing support to one another, so that nobody feels overburdened.

Phillips, the deputy education commissioner, argues that a key to meeting the demands of No Child Left Behind is to widen the scope of responsibility, so that parents, business people, legislators, community organizations and other subgroups of society take a role in helping students meet standards.

"Accountability should be shaped as all of us rolling up our sleeves and getting to work," he said.

At part of this, Phillips said people have an obligation both to understand the various aspects of No Child Left Behind and a willingness to challenge those aspects they see as flawed. To do otherwise, he said, is to do an injustice to our schools and ultimately to ourselves.

"If we take a passive approach and let No Child Left Behind rule the day, we in fact are allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed and become victims of sorts to the mechanisms of the law," he said.

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Pediatricians urge schools to drop pop  
Panel cites duty to students' health
Associated Press, January 5, 2004

Soft drinks should be eliminated from schools to help tackle the nation's obesity epidemic, the American Academy of Pediatrics says.

In a new policy statement, the academy says doctors should contact superintendents and school board members and "emphasize the notion that every school in every district shares a responsibility for the nutritional health of its students."

Some schools already limit contracts with vendors of soft drinks and fast foods, though the soft drink industry has fought efforts by some states to mandate such restrictions.

In December, Gov. Rod Blagojevich called for legislation to ban junk food and soft drinks in Illinois school vending machines.

While some schools rely on funds from vending machines to pay for student activities, the new academy policy says elementary and high schools should avoid such contracts, and that those with existing contracts should impose restrictions.

The policy appears in the January issue of Pediatrics, being published Monday.

"The purpose of the statement is to give parents and superintendents and school board members and teachers, too, an awareness of the fact that they're playing a role in the current obesity crisis, and that they have measures at their disposal" to address it, said Dr. Robert D. Murray, the policy's lead author.

About 15 percent of U.S. youngsters aged 6 to 19 are seriously overweight. That is nearly 9 million youths and triple the number in a similar assessment from 1980.

Soft drinks are a common source of excess calories that can contribute to weight gain, and soft drink consumers at all ages have a higher daily calorie intake than non-consumers, the academy's policy said. The National Soft Drink Association, which represents most soft drink manufacturers nationwide, said the new policy is misguided and goes too far.

"Soft drinks can be a part of a balanced lifestyle and are a nice treat," said Jim Finkelstein, the association's executive director.

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Bush talks about school success  
By Jo Mannies, Post-Dispatch, 01/05/2004

President George W. Bush came to a St. Louis school today to talk about how students can improve their levels of achievement.

In the gym at Laclede Elementary School, a city school off Goodfellow Boulevard near the county line, Bush joined staff members onstage to discuss their students' successes and how they can be applied to other schools that are trying to improve student performance.

Bush was in St. Louis touting the success of the No Child Left Behind law, which he signed two years ago.

Although Bush took no questions from the audience, in his remarks he did address two of the criticisms of the act: that it focuses too much on testing and that there isn't enough federal money allocated to help schools comply with its requirements.

He said Title I money, a key federal education aid program for low-income families, has risen more than 40 percent, as has federal aid for teacher training. But he noted that at Laclede School, which has some of the highest test scores in Missouri, student achievement has increased dramatically without federal mandates. "Laclede was doing this before the No Child Left Behind act was passed," Bush said.

He said testing is necessary. "How do you know a child isn't reading if you don't test? ... Testing isn't to punish anybody but to determine who needs help. It's essential we monitor what works."

He also praised Jeff Tank, a volunteer with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, who met him at the airport and was among those in the audience at Laclede. He said Tank exemplifies the importance of mentoring students and the importance of getting everyone involved in helping students learn.

"Join us all in mentoring ... one child at a time," Bush said.

After the session at Laclede, Bush headed downtown for a fund-raiser at America's Center.

The president arrived at Lambert Field shortly before 2 p.m. Among those greeting Bush when he stepped off the plane were Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., and three area members of Congress -- Republicans Kenny Hulshof of Columbia and Jo Ann Amerson of Cape Girardeau and Democrat William Lacy Clay of St. Louis.

In an interview before the president's arrival, Clay said that the White House had asked him last week to join the president on his visit to Laclede. Clay noted that the school is in his district.

Clay said he was interested in what the president had to say about the No Child Left Behind Act and said he had concerns about the lack of federal funding. He said he hoped to tell Bush that the effort needs more federal money, and he particularly wants federal money to replace state money that is no longber going to school districts that take part in the city-county voluntary desegregation plan.

The president's motorcade left the highway and traveled through county and city streets on the way to Laclede.

Aftere arriving at the school, Bush met with about three dozen students in the school library, where the children had a chance to ask him questions. Among other things he was asked why he had wanted to become president. Bush replied, "I wanted to become the president to work on a lot of big issues like education."

One child asked if he wanted to be president when he was a child, and Bush answered, "No."

Among those in the audience were several members of the St. Louis School Board, including former Mayor Vincent Schoemehl and President Darnetta Clinkscale and acting superintendent William Roberti. A number of representatives from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education also were there, along with several political figures including state House Speaker Catherine Hanaway and Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder.

The late-afternoon fund-raising event is expected to raise at least $2.5 million for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign -- a state record for a single political event in Missouri.

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Dean criticizes No Child Left Behind Act  
By Sean Murphy, CNHI Capitol Bureau

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Nearly two years after the implementation of President Bush's sweeping education reform - the No Child Left Behind Act - states like Oklahoma have been left scrambling to pay for its implementation, according to one man who hopes to challenge Bush in November.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, the apparent frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, said Monday the No Child Left Behind Act is placing an enormous burden on states by requiring additional testing and other federal mandates that have not been fully funded by the federal government.

"It's underfunded by approximately $9 billion," Dean said from Fargo, N.D., during a conference call with reporters. "It's a bill that has been, by and large, very, very bad for American education."

The NCLB Act, which Bush signed on Jan. 8, 2002, requires states to implement statewide accountability standards covering all public schools and students, including annual testing for students in grades three through eight. The measure also requires schools and districts to make adequate yearly progress toward state goals or face corrective action.

But Dean argued that the standards for students and teachers follow a "Washington-based, one-size-fits-all approach" and are an unrealistic approach for diverse school systems throughout the country.

"This is simply federal bureaucracy run amok," Dean said. "The standards are so ridiculous that every single public school in America will be deemed to be a school in need of improvement, or a failing school, by 2013."

Dean said the greatest burden of the NCLB Act is that states will be forced to pick up the tab for the increased cost of implementing various mandates associated with the law.

"As President Bush 'celebrates' the anniversary of No Child Left Behind today, communities across our country are raising property taxes to buy their children's textbooks, pay teachers and, in some cases, keep school doors open," he said. "Increases in property taxes, college tuition hikes and cuts in vital services are the costs all Americans pay for the president's disastrous fiscal policies - I call these costs the 'Bush Tax.'"

Andy Young, Oklahoma's deputy state superintendent, said Oklahoma is making progress toward implementing No Child Left Behind mandates. And while he said the goal of educating every child to the highest possible level is something that all educators share, he admitted that states ultimately will have to pay for some of the required federal components.

"It (federal funding) most certainly doesn't cover all the costs of it," he said. "There's only two other sets of funding - state funding and local funding - to cover the shortfall."

Young said there have been no comprehensive studies conducted on exactly how much it will cost Oklahoma to implement all of the components of NCLB. He predicted there will be some modifications to how the measure is implemented and a learning curve associated with it.

"It's going to need some tweaking," Young said. "You can't have that huge an omnibus bill and expect it to be perfect the first time around. It just won't be. It just needs to take some patience, and people need to not give up on the concept of helping each child learn the best they can."

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Schools sue over state aid
By Carolyn Bower, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 01/06/2004

A group of school districts representing more than a third of Missouri's public school students filed suit Tuesday challenging the state's system for distributing money to public schools.

The lawsuit alleges that Missouri fails to provide enough money to educate every student and deprives students of equal opportunities to an education. The suit asks the court to declare Missouri's education financing system unconstitutional.

The suit was filed in Cole County Circuit Court in Jefferson City by the Committee for Educational Equality, plus several parents and their children. The committee represents 243 school districts and more than 340,000 students, said Alex Bartlett, a lawyer for the school districts.

Thirteen districts in the St. Louis area joined the committee.

The suit says that at a time of increased demands for student achievement, a student's address rather than his or her abilities, efforts or aspirations "controls the quality of education these children can receive."

The goal is not to take money from rich districts to finance poorer districts, said Bartlett.

"The Claytons, Ladues and Brentwoods establish a standard of what they can provide with additional money," Bartlett said. "We aren't saying they shouldn't have it or we should have quite that much. But districts such as Hazelwood, a growing district, and Jennings in the inner circle of St. Louis County are having tough times."

Missouri's financing system also ignores the need for improvements in school buildings, equipment and technology, the suit argues.

Thirteen years ago Bartlett represented another group of school districts that went to court to challenge Missouri's system of financing schools. After a judge ruled the old system unconstitutional, state legislators changed the aid formula, increasing taxes and spending on schools.

Although that financing system brought more money for schools overall, spending also rose dramatically, especially for early childhood special education, summer school and kindergarten.

The state's funding formula is a complicated calculation that takes into account many factors, including a district's property wealth, its tax rate, number of students and their family income. The aim is to help poorer districts. State aid can range from less than $300 a pupil for Clayton to more than $5,000 a child in Jennings, for example.

But because much of public school financing comes from local property taxes, Clayton can spend more than $13,000 a student while Jennings spends about $8,400 and Festus around $4,800.

"What worked 10 years ago is not workable today," Bartlett said Tuesday afternoon. "We are not trying to say what the legislators should do. Missouri should provide as nearly as possible equal educational opportunities for every section of this state."

John Augenblick, a school finance consultant hired by some business and education groups in Missouri, has estimated it would cost an additional $913 million to give every child an adequate education in Missouri. That would increase spending by $1,000 per student per year.

Missouri Gov. Bob Holden withheld about $190 million from elementary and secondary schools last July, saying the Legislature did not provide enough money to cover the budget. Later the governor released $75 million to schools.

For several years Holden has asked legislators to eliminate some tax breaks and to increase taxes on cigarettes, casinos and the wealthy to generate more money for education. Republicans have refused to do so, even after the governor called legislators back for two special sessions last year.

Holden called the lawsuit unfortunate but not unexpected.

"I do not want the courts running our schools, but when the Legislature fails to satisfy its constitutional duties, the school districts are left with no alternative," Holden said in a statement issued Tuesday. "I would prefer that the Legislature adequately fund education so that the state does not have to defend lawsuits."

House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R-Warson Woods, said in a statement Tuesday that legislators had passed a balanced budget for this year that provided $186 million more for education than the previous year's budget. She renewed her call for Holden to release $122 million for elementary and secondary education.

She also said that state representatives have worked to address concerns about equity in the school financing system by creating an interim committee to study the issue.

Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, chairman of the interim House and Senate committee on education, predicted the suit will ultimately result in a new education funding formula.

Many states are wrangling over school financing. Last month, New York's Board of Regents proposed a massive overhaul in the state's formula. In Kansas, a judge ruled the state's education funding system unconstitutional. In Illinois, the former head of the state school board has started an organization to make education the state's top funding priority.

In the St. Louis area, Hazelwood Superintendent Chris Wright said her district joined the group filing suit because chances for legislative action on school financing appeared unlikely this year and because of their current budget woes.

"Many of us have made significant cuts in our budget and are looking at worse cuts for next year," Wright said. "We are not prepared to dismantle our districts and go backwards."

In the Festus district, the $4,887 per-pupil spending figure is among the lowest in the state. Superintendent Robert Taylor said teachers and administrators are doing all they can with limited resources.

"What are we going to cut?' Taylor said Tuesday. "Some of us are close to jumping over the balcony. Some of us are two feet away. This is not a joke."

 

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Coke, Pepsi to cut school presence  
Items compiled from Tribune news services, January 7, 2004

TORONTO, CANADA -- Responding to concern about poor diets and fat children, Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc. will stock cafeterias and vending machines in elementary and middle schools with water and fruit juice rather than with high-calorie drinks, according to a group representing both companies.

Calla Farn, spokeswoman for the industry group Refreshing Canada, said the two corporations decided to act after meeting with educators, parents and nutritionists. The change takes effect in September.

Half the products in elementary and middle-school vending machines will be water and pure fruit juice. Non-carbonated juice and sports drinks will make up the remainder.

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U.S. teens fatter, study finds / Education Week
Other industrialized countries managing obesity better
Lindsey Tanner, Associated Press, Jan. 6, 2004

Teenagers in the United States have higher rates of obesity than those in 14 other industrialized countries, including France and Germany, a study of nearly 30,000 youths ages 13 and 15 found.

Among American 15-year-olds, 15 percent of girls and 14 percent of boys were obese, and 31 percent of girls and 28 percent of boys were modestly overweight.

The findings are based on school questionnaires given to youngsters in the 15 countries in 1997 and 1998. The study was led by Inge Lissau, a researcher at the National Institute of Public Health in Copenhagen, Denmark, and was published in the January issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Heaviest countries, based on data from 15-year-olds, included Greece, Portugal, Israel, Ireland and Denmark.

U.S. teens were more likely to eat fast food, snacks and sugary sodas and were more likely to be driven to school and other activities, contributing to a more sedentary lifestyle, said co-author Mary Overpeck of the U.S. Maternal and Child Health Bureau.

"The rest of the world may be catching up, but we're still in first place in a race that unfortunately we shouldn't want to be winning," said Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity researcher at Children's Hospital Boston who was not involved in the study. He led a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics that found that nearly one-third of U.S. youngsters eat fast food on any given day.

Lithuania had the lowest obesity rates in the latest study. Among Lithuanian 15-year-olds, 2 percent of girls and 0.8 percent of boys were obese, and 8 percent of girls and 5 percent of boys were overweight.

That is probably because Lithuania has fewer fast-food places and its teens have less money to buy snacks and fast food, Overpeck said.

In some countries, such as Ireland, Portugal and Sweden, 13-year-old girls were more likely than 15-year-old girls to be obese.

Among French 15-year-olds, 4 percent of girls and 3 percent of boys were obese, and 13 percent of girls and 10 percent of boys were overweight. Among German 15-year-olds, 5 percent of girls and boys were obese, and 15 percent of girls and 14 percent of boys were overweight.

Other countries studied were Austria, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Finland and Slovenia. Overpeck said preliminary data from more recent surveys indicate little if any change in rates among the countries studied.

The World Health Organization last year said obesity is no longer mostly an American problem but is an increasing concern in Europe and other developed nations because people are abandoning traditional habits and adopting more sedentary lifestyles. Weight calculations were based on body-mass index, a height-weight ratio

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Judge deals another blow to voucher plan  
Battle looming as jurist upholds his previous injunction
By Robert Sanchez, Rocky Mountain News, January 7, 2004

Colorado's school-voucher supporters suffered another legal blow Tuesday when a Denver judge upheld a decision that temporarily halted the fledgling system.

The one-sentence decision from District Judge Joseph Meyer puts the program's fate further into limbo, as voucher supporters had hoped to move ahead with the plan while the issue is being taken to the state Supreme Court.

Meyer - in a two-pronged decision last month - placed an injunction on the program, but not before ruling that the voucher law violates the state Constitution because it strips control from school boards.

State Attorney General Ken Salazar and the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice are appealing the local-control issue separately to the state's highest court. A decision could come this summer.

It was uncertain Tuesday whether voucher proponents also would appeal Meyer's injunction to the state Supreme Court.

"We have to consider every one of our options," said Chip Mellor, president and general counsel at the Institute for Justice. "Obviously, we're very disappointed with this decision."

Anti-voucher groups hailed Meyer's latest ruling, calling it a victory for public education.

"We can't predict what the (state Supreme Court) will do next, but we're certainly pleased with what's happened so far," said Martha Houser, general counsel for the Colorado Education Association, which has supported the case against vouchers.

Officials from the Colorado PTA filed the voucher challenge.

Had Meyer reversed his earlier ruling, it would have allowed the voucher program to move forward, at least temporarily, while the state's highest court made its decision.

Vouchers were supposed to begin in August, and schools were to start taking applications for the program beginning this month. Because of Meyer's decision last month, everything was put on hold.

Colorado's voucher system eventually was to become the country's largest, allowing up to 20,000 of the Front Range's poorest and lowest-performing students to use public money to attend private schools by 2007. The program was to start with roughly 3,300 children and 113 private schools.

Former U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer, who created the pro-voucher Colorado Alliance for Reform in Education, said the program could still move ahead in time for the next school year. The group was helping thousands of families apply for vouchers.

Under the state law Meyer struck down last month, 11 districts with eight or more schools that received low or unsatisfactory academic ratings in 2001 were required to participate.

Districts in the program included Denver and Jefferson County and extended from Greeley to Pueblo.

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Democrats broaden attack on school law  
By Mary Leonard, Globe Staff, 1/6/2004

WASHINGTON -- Democratic presidential candidates, encouraged by teachers' unions and growing public doubts about a bipartisan education law, are widening their attacks on what President Bush has touted as a major domestic accomplishment and calling for fundamental changes in its provisions.

For months, the Democratic mantra has been that the Bush administration shortchanged states by billions of dollars for implementing the federal education law known as the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires local school districts to test third- through eighth-graders in English and math, raise the quality of teaching forces, and impose sanctions on schools that fail to improve student achievement.

But as the first nominating contests approach, the leading Democratic candidates -- most of whom voted for the legislation -- also have begun to criticize the accountability requirements as too burdensome on school districts. Some say they would undo pieces of the sweeping law.

"The standards are so ridiculous that every single public school in America will be deemed to be a school in need of improvement or a failing school by 2013," former Vermont governor Howard Dean said in a teleconference yesterday. He said the law, which he has pledged to dismantle, was "making education in America worse, not better."

Retired Army General Wesley K. Clark has called the law's first two years a failure. Senators John F. Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina said they want to change the way student achievement is measured. And Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri proposed giving states more latitude in testing.

Recent polls indicate that approval of Bush's handling of education has fallen to the lowest level in his presidency.

Yesterday in northern St. Louis, Bush defended the law at an urban school. He said the school had dramatically improved reading scores among students and wisely spent federal education funding, which he said has increased 41 percent for low-income schools since he took office.

"I'm here to congratulate this school and to really hold you up for the nation to see what is possible when you raise the bar, when you're not afraid to hold people to account, when you empower your teachers and your principals to achieve the objective we want," Bush told parents at Pierre Laclede Elementary School.

In November, the National Education Association, the teachers' union with 2.7 million members, ran newspaper ads in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, urging candidates to make the No Child Left Behind law an election issue.

"The more people know about this particular law, the less they like it," NEA spokeswoman Kathleen Lyons said. She called a key requirement -- that all elementary and middle-school children in public schools be proficient in math and English by 2014 -- unworkable and absurd.

Indeed, there are signs that the growing pains of implementing No Child Left Behind are spreading beyond school administrators and teachers to Republican and Democratic legislators, who in some states are balking at the new federal mandates in the midst of budget crises that have forced them to cut state funding for education.

Meanwhile, parents are receiving the first reports that their public schools have failed to make "adequate yearly progress" under the law. Data collected by the publication Education Week show that more than 23,000 schools did not reach state proficiency standards in the 2002-03 school year, and 5,200 had missed the target for two years. Under federal law, those schools, deemed "in need of improvement," must give students the option to transfer to a better-performing school. Those on the list for three years also must provide private tutoring.

"This law is starting to fray because it's starting to hit home," said William J. Mathis, an education finance professor at the University of Vermont and school superintendent in Brandon, Vt.

The White House has reason to fear political fallout. In an ABC News/ Washington Post poll last month, Bush's approval rating on education was 47 percent, the first time a majority of Americans did not have a favorable view of the president's handling of the issue and a stunning drop from 71 percent approval in January 2002, when Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act.

"I have long suspected that the day Bush signed the act was the day he would get the most credit for improving education," said John F. Jennings, director of the Center on Education Policy, a nonprofit group that advocates for public schools. "It is very difficult for the federal government to bring about change in public schooling, where the tradition is for local control."

Determined to end the Democrats' traditional advantage on education, particularly with female voters in the suburbs, Bush made the improvement of public schools a campaign theme in 2000. He pledged unprecedented federal intervention to close the achievement gap between white and minority students, and tied an increase in federal funds to rigorous requirements for standardized testing and school accountability.

Polls showed it was a winning issue for Bush. Democrats, led by Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, saw a way to target more federal money to public schools in low-income neighborhoods, and voted almost unanimously for the legislation in late 2001.

Within months, the bipartisan comity collapsed, as Democrats charged that Bush reneged on at least $6 billion in funds promised to implement the law and was saddling states with an "unfunded mandate."

Now Democratic candidates are going further and urging that the law's tough testing and accountability requirements be relaxed. Kerry, who voted for the bill, said he would end "one-size-fits-all" testing and assess students also on attendance and graduation rates. Edwards, who on Sunday called his vote for the legislation a mistake, would change the way student achievement is measured and review the law's provision for "highly qualified teachers" in every classroom by 2006. Clark has challenged the law's mandate that all students in a state, including those with learning disabilities and language barriers, be held to the same achievement standards.

As governor, Dean opposed No Child Left Behind and said Vermont would have to raise $80 million more from property taxes to implement it. Yesterday, he called the law an "intrusive mandate" and said Democratic candidates who voted for it were "co-opted" by Bush's agenda, which Dean says aims to "put public schools out of business."

Eugene W. Hickok, acting US deputy secretary of education, said Dean "doesn't get it" because he comes from a small, rural state without the challenges of a diverse student population. Hickok said it will be later this year before the results can be measured, and it is "too soon" to amend the law.

"Democrats don't own the education issue anymore, and they are trying to get it back," Hickok said. "So they are using irresponsible rhetoric . . . and pandering to the fears of hard-working educators who are facing change and nervous about it."

He said Bush will campaign aggressively on education, including a stop at a Tennessee school Thursday, the law's second anniversary. "The president will take on the myths and he will take on the criticism, which in many cases is unfounded, unfair, and misinformed," Hickok said. "No one is arguing the law is perfect, but we will stand behind it."

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South Dakota schools limit, dump vending machines  
AP, 1/7/2004

MITCHELL, S.D. -- Some South Dakota school districts are changing, limiting or dumping their soda and snack-food vending machines as a way of encouraging students to make healthier food choices.

During the holiday break, workers at Riggs High School in Pierre removed all machines that dispense soda and junk food. Earlier, Chamberlain school officials agreed to turn off pop machines during school hours. And in Mitchell, administrators began a policy last year of shutting down pop and candy machines until the afternoon of each school day.

The changes are motivated by statistics that show more teenagers are struggling with their weight, administrators say.

Although vending machines in school bring in revenue for cash-strapped districts, the downside is beginning to outweigh the economic benefits, educators say. "We said, you know, you have to put the kids' safety before that," said Chamberlain Superintendent Tim Mitchell. "Health is more important than the almighty dollar."

For many student councils, vending machines are a major source of funding for student groups. In some cases schools are paid by companies to exclusively offer its products.

Such a contract is in place at Gregory, according to Superintendent David Nicholas. Still, Nicholas said he is not adverse to examining the school's policy on vending machines. "It's certainly not something we're avoiding," he said. "It just hasn't come up."

Last summer, a coalition called South Dakota Action for Healthy Kids sent letters to schools and parent groups statewide urging school officials to adopt vending policies that favor healthy choices for students.

"Our reason in promoting it is that we would like students and parents to become aware of vending policies in local schools," said Paul Knecht, of Pierre, who helped organize the campaign. "It's one of those things most people don't give any thought to, but students spend a big part of their day there, and the things they have access to certainly affect their consumption habits."

As more districts restrict vending machines, some students say they were caught off guard by the changes.

In Mitchell, a committee of students, food service workers and educators was formed to help figure out a way for students to recoup losses from shutting down vending machines for most of the day. The result was a "Lunch-to-go" stand, where students can buy a sack lunch to take on their lunch break.

The program promotes healthy eating and replaces some of the lost revenue from the vending machines. But it's unknown whether banning soda and junk food in schools will make a difference.

Seth Anderson, a Mitchell 10th-grader, said school's policy of turning pop and candy machines off until 1 p.m. has not altered his eating habits or those of his friends.

It's not uncommon for students to bring their own pop or candy to school in the morning, he said. "This is only eight hours a day. People eat a lot more at home than they do here."

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New National Survey Shows Unwavering Public Support for No Child Left Behind Education Reforms, Boehner Says / US News Wire
Josh Holly or David Schnittger, 202-225-4527, both of the House Education & the Workforce Committee

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. House Education & the Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-Ohio) today called attention to a new national survey of 1,000 Americans showing public support for President Bush's No Child Left Behind education law remains rock-solid, particularly among African-Americans and parents with children in public schools, after two years and an onslaught of false and negative attacks by education reform opponents.

The national survey, which has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points, was conducted on behalf of Americans for Better Education (ABE) by The Winston Group on Jan. 5-6, 2004.

"These results show convincingly that parents with children in public schools reject the negative rhetoric and excuses of the NEA and other education reform opponents," Boehner said. "Americans support high standards and accountability for results. Americans believe No Child Left Behind is reasonable. Americans don't believe students take too many tests. And they show the President's political opponents are getting little traction from their false attacks suggesting the law is underfunded."

Among the poll's key findings:

-- NCLB is viewed favorably by a solid majority of Americans, with support highest among African-Americans and parents of children in public schools. No Child Left Behind is viewed favorably by the American public (54 percent favorable, 23 percent unfavorable), with a national name identification of 87 percent. African-Americans have a favorable view of No Child Left Behind at a higher margin (60-17) than the national number. Married women with children view NCLB favorably by a 58-26 margin. Parents of children in public schools favor NCLB by a 61-22 margin. Asked whether they approve or disapprove of President Bush's education reforms, 52 percent indicate they approve, while only 32 percent indicate disapproval. Hispanic Americans approve by a 51-32 margin. Parents with children in public schools approve by a 56-29 margin. Rural voters approve by a 69-24 margin.

-- The more details Americans hear about NCLB's goals, the more they like it. After Americans are given a brief description of No Child Left Behind, approval of the law goes up by 16 points to an overwhelming 68 percent (68-25). After hearing a brief description of the law, African-Americans approve by a 68-25 margin. Hispanics approve by a 69-25 margin. Rural voters approve by a 76-19 margin. Married women with children approve 76-18. Parents with children in public schools approve 72-25. (Respondents were told the NCLB law requires states to have a highly qualified school teacher in every public classroom, even if it means some teachers may be forced to obtain additional training; allows parents with children in underachieving schools to transfer them to a better public or charter school; requires school districts to give parents annual report cards on academic performance of schools; requires schools to set and meet goals each year to show that all children are making academic progress; and targets federal education dollars to the poorest schools and districts.)

-- High standards and accountability trump spending. Americans like the philosophy of standards and accountability. A whopping 60 percent believe raising standards and accountability is more important to improving America's schools than increasing funding (30 percent). Rural voters favor standards and accountability over funding by a 65-23 margin. Moderates favor accountability and standards by a 58-32 margin.

-- Americans do not believe NCLB is unreasonable. Americans overwhelmingly (67 percent) believe the reason schools are being rated by states as underperforming under No Child Left Behind is because those schools truly need help, not because standards are unreasonable (21 percent). Among African-Americans, that figure jumps to 74-21. Among married women with children, the figure is 70-21. Among parents with children in public schools, the figure is 71-20.

-- Americans do not believe students take too many tests. Asked which is the bigger problem -- children passing through U.S. schools without learning to read, or children being forced to take too many tests -- Americans overwhelmingly (77 percent) believe the more important problem in education is that children are passing through schools without learning to read. Only 18 percent believe the bigger problem is too many tests.

-- Americans believe the federal government should hold states and schools accountable for results when they use federal education funds. Americans overwhelmingly (71 percent) believe the federal government should be able to hold states and local schools accountable for using federal funds to improve student achievement; only 25 percent do not.

-- More Americans are seeing a local impact. In the ABE survey done a year ago (December 29-30, 2002), 23 percent were aware of NCLB having an impact in their local schools. The new ABE survey shows 33 percent awareness of a local impact of NCLB, coupled with significant public support for the reforms themselves.

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Study: Schools Unfairly Funded   
Pennsylvania Inequity Puts It Second To Worst In Country.
By Beth Braverman

Pennsylvania and New Jersey rank among the worst states in evenhanded education spending, according to the Quality Counts 2004 study released today by Education Week and Pew Charitable Trusts.

"There's a lot of inequity in the way they fund the schools," said Bill Haberl, superintendent of the Pen Argyl Area School District. "Some schools are given a lot of money and some schools aren't."

The study used the state's efforts to equalize spending among rich and poor districts and other factors to grade the states on a 100-point scale.

Pennsylvania tied with New Hampshire for a score of 60, or a D-minus, for the second-to-worst score. New Jersey received the fifth-worst score, tying with Rhode Island and Montana at 63, or a D.

"A lot of money goes to the Abbott districts, and the other districts have received flat aid for the past two years," said Sandra Moore, school administrator of the Alpha Public School District.

Thirty New Jersey schools, including Phillipsburg School District, have become Abbott schools, a distinction that came from a 1998 Supreme Court ruling, Abbott vs. Burke, which mandated the state fund its neediest school districts to keep them on par with the richest districts.

Moore and other school administrators from throughout Warren County argue that leaves the districts in the middle in the cold.

"Trying to run a school district with rising costs and flat state aid increases the burden on the taxpayers," Moore said.

Moore suggested the state look to other means of funding such as an increase in the state income tax.

Bangor Area School District Superintendent John Reinhart agreed with Pennsylvania's D-minus grade.

"That's an accurate assessment of where the state falls in its distribution of funds for schools," he said. "I am surprised it's a D-minus and not an F. I have yet to find any explanation of the way the state funds public education that makes sense and is fair to schools and to taxpayers."

State legislators have to completely revise the spending methods, Reinhart said.

"Very few lawmakers want to face this problem because it means that those places that get more money will end up getting less and that means there will be a lot of unhappy people in places where there is a lot of power," he said. "We are talking about the most fundamental issue in public education in Pennsylvania, and that's whether all kids are getting an equitable piece of the pie. They're not."

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell is committed to revising the school funding system, spokesman Abe Amoros said.

"This (Quality Counts study) demonstrates the need for property tax reform," Amoros said. "We are confident that we will reach a compromise during the first several weeks of the legislative session. We wish to increase the state's share of funding to 47 percent. School districts haven't seen that distribution since 1977."

Rendell hopes to raise education money by legalizing slot machines.

"We recognize that inequality exists, and it is unfair for senior citizens and poorer families to pick up that burden," Rendell said. "We'd like to see more equal distribution of resources."

Pennsylvania provides 39 percent of education funding; New Jersey provides 41.8 percent of education funding to its schools.

New Jersey's funding of most schools remains below what it should be, said Mike Feeney, principal of Blairstown Elementary School, which receives 17 percent of its funding from the state.

"We think it's extremely low," Feeney said. "Our local taxpayers are picking up a huge portion (of the budget). We need help from the state, but I don't know where they are going to get it from."

The Franklin Township School District, Warren County, has received less state money each of the past few years, increasing the load for local taxpayers, said Superintendent Roger Jinks. Five years ago, 58 percent of the district's funding came from local taxpayers; this year property owners cover 71 percent of the district's costs. The district's population has increased from 285 to 400 students in same amount of time.

"It's very frustrating because taxpayers look from year to year at how their taxes change," Jinks said. "But from our perspective, we are getting less and less funding from the state."

Jinks said the Abbott funding scheme has hurt middle-income districts.

Rich Vespucci, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Education, said the department has begun to re-examine its funding scheme because of the concerns of such districts.

"We think the current law has gone a long way to ensuring equity, but we don't think the law is perfect as it stands," he said.

The large number of municipalities and independent school districts in the state keeps its equity rating low when based on the Quality Counts criteria, Vespucci said.

"We don't think the grade properly characterizes everything we've done in this state over the past six years to bridge the gap in funding and provide the same educational opportunities to the economically disadvantaged as their more affluent counterparts have," he said.

Hawaii rated the best in the country in fair spending with a score of 100 or an A, but the state has only one public school district.

Illinois received the only failing grade with a 57, or an F.

The study, available at 10 a.m. at www.edweek.org, also ranks states on student achievement, standards and accountability, efforts to improve teacher quality, school climate and resource adequacy.

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Special Needs, Common Goals  
Education Week

Within a decade, federal law requires that all students—including those with disabilities—be performing at the "proficient" level on state tests. It's a challenge of unprecedented proportions, particularly for the nation's nearly 6.6 million children receiving special education services. Until now, such students have largely been excluded from state testing and accountability systems—and often from mainstream instruction.

Quality Counts 2004: "Count Me In: Special Education in an Era of Standards" examines this explosive issue. Educators and parents of special education students alike find themselves on both sides of the fence, torn between wanting to raise expectations for students with disabilities and concerns that such children could suffer harsh or unintended consequences as a result.

As the title of this year's Quality Counts report suggests, students with disabilities have the same right as all other children to be included in state standards, assessments, and accountability systems. Otherwise, it's impossible to know how they're performing or how well public schools are serving their needs. But how to do so in a way that's fair and appropriate remains a major concern.

Part of the issue is that students in special education are such a diverse group, as illustrated by the personal stories throughout this report. Of the nearly 6 million students ages 6-21 receiving special education services under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the nation's main special education law, 67 percent have specific learning disabilities or speech or language impairments. Fewer than 12 percent have disabilities associated with significant cognitive impairments, such as mental retardation or traumatic brain injury.

One-fifth of special education students spend the majority of their time outside regular classrooms, although the proportion varies by disability. And while special education students, as a group, tend to perform far lower on state tests than their peers without disabilities do, they can be found across the full range of academic performance.

At the same time, concern continues that minority students are overrepresented in some special education categories— and that many children are misidentified for special education simply because they did not receive effective instruction in the first place.

Now, educators are wondering how much progress they can expect from special education students, how fast.

For the first time, because of the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, data are publicly available across most of the 50 states and the District of Columbia about the performance of special education students on state tests. Those results show just how far the nation has to go.

For this report, Education Week asked states to provide information on the percent of special vs. general education students who took state tests in reading and mathematics in grades 4, 8, and 10 in 2002-03. We also asked what percent of the total enrollment of special vs. general education students scored at or above the proficient level on those tests. (Where states did not have such data, we asked for results from the next closest grade and year.)

On 4th grade reading tests, we found that 30 of the 39 states with complete data had achievement gaps of 30 percentage points or more between special and general education students. In Arkansas, Iowa, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Vermont, the gaps were more than 50 percentage points. Gaps in 8th grade reading tended to be even wider. Only five of the 39 states—Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, and Texas—reported achievement gaps under 30 percentage points. On high school reading exams, 32 of 36 states reported achievement gaps larger than 30 percentage points.

For this year's report, Education Week commissioned a national survey of 800 special and general education teachers, conducted by the Washington-based firm of Belden Russonello & Stewart. While a vast majority of teachers believe their special education students make "significant academic progress over the course of the school year," most question whether such youngsters should have to meet the same academic standards and testing requirements as others their age, as the No Child Left Behind law demands for most students with disabilities.

More than eight in 10 teachers believe that most special education students should be expected to meet a separate set of academic standards, rather than the same standards as others their age. Nearly as many say special education students should be given alternative assessments, rather than have to take the same tests as general education students. Eighty-five percent of teachers "somewhat" or "strongly" agree that including test results of special education students in the accountability system will result in an inaccurate assessment of the job that schools and teachers are doing.

Yet teachers overwhelmingly agree with another tenet of the No Child Left Behind Act: Ninety-eight percent say it is "very" or "somewhat" important that special education teachers demonstrate competence in all the academic subjects they teach their special education students.

That's not the case now. Education Week's annual policy survey found that in 2003-04 no state requires special education teachers at the secondary level to earn degrees, complete a minimum amount of coursework, or pass tests in the core academic subjects they intend to teach.

And while 76 percent of public school teachers teach special education students, according to Education Week's teacher poll, we found that just 14 states and the District of Columbia require general education teachers to complete one or more courses related to special education to earn their licenses. Only nine compel general education teachers to complete preservice training related to special education. Five states require both.

By far the most contentious issue is how to test special education students and include those results in accountability systems.

In the past decade, states have made enormous strides in this area. Every state, for example, now provides at least one alternate assessment for special education students who cannot take part in regular state tests even with accommodations, or permits districts to do so.

But we found that only 13 of the 37 states that provided data tested 95 percent or more of their special education students in reading and mathematics in grades 4, 8, and 10, in the 2002-03 school year, or the most recent year for which data were available.

Moreover, while every state now has written guidelines about providing special education students with accommodations on state tests—changes in test materials, procedures, or settings designed to eliminate barriers based on students' disabilities—states don't agree on which accommodations are appropriate for which students.

Concerns that some accommodations give special education students an unfair advantage—or could change the nature of what's tested—have led to diverse practices across states. A prime example is reading portions of a reading test out loud to students, a practice banned in some states and permitted in others.

Education Week's policy survey for Quality Counts 2004 found that 15 states forbid students to take state tests with "modifications," or nonstandard accommodations that could change what's being measured. Ten exclude the results of tests taken with modifications in determining proficiency rates. And 18 states automatically give a zero or a score below the proficient level for a test taken with nonstandard accommodations.

All states and the District consider the test scores of special education students in rating schools. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia also consider the dropout rates of such students, and 28 states and the District consider the graduation rates for students with disabilities in school ratings.

Equally controversial is the question of whether students with disabilities should be required to pass promotion or graduation tests in the states that have such exams. We found that 14 states require special education students to pass exit or end-of-course tests to earn diplomas. While 39 states and the District regulate the requirements for a standard diploma, 24 states permit students with disabilities to earn such diplomas even if they don't meet the graduation requirements.

As is true every year, Quality Counts also charts progress in other facets of states' education systems and grades them in four areas: standards and accountability, efforts to improve teacher quality, school climate, and resources. States averaged a C-plus across those categories.

This year, we changed the format of state profiles to explain, in detail, how we graded each state.

Quality Counts 2004 is divided into four sections. "Enveloping Expectations" examines the special theme for this year's report. "Put to the Test" tracks state policies and indicators related to the theme. "State of the States" includes more than 100 indicators of the health of each state's public education system. Profiles and report cards for the 50 states and the District of Columbia appear at the back of the report.

—The Editors  / Quality Counts is produced with support from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

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Illinois State Board of Education
100 North First Street
Springfield, IL 62777