First lady, Paige tout plan - No Child Left Behind to undergo changes
By Mike Schneider
Bush told a National School Boards Association conference that the law was a continuation of the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that integrated the nation's schools.
"At the time of Brown v. Board of Education, some people thought black children didn't deserve to be in the same classroom as white children. ... Now today, there are still some people who believe some children can't achieve high standards," Bush said. "No Child Left Behind is based on the premise that all children must have access to high quality schools regardless of their skin color, their disability or their ZIP code."
The law has been criticized by some educators and state officials for being underfunded, burdensome and an example of federal interference with state and local governments.
Plan 'gives states flexibility'
Paige told the school-board members that changes were being made for calculating schools' participation rates on assessment tests. The 2001 law requires schools to get participation from at least 95 percent of students in math and reading testing. Schools also must get 95-percent participation from all major subgroups of students, such as minority or disabled youngsters. The changes will allow schools to average their participation rates over a three-year period, and students who are unable to take a test because of a medical emergency won't be counted against a school's participation rate.
"We recognized there were circumstances whereby a few absent students prevented an otherwise successful school from meeting the 95-percent participation rate requirement," Paige said.
The easing of rules is the latest effort by the Bush administration to show it is trying to answer concerns about the education law. Two weeks ago, the Education Department gave some leeway to rural teachers, science teachers and those who teach multiple subjects in showing they are highly qualified, a requirement of the law.
In recent months, the Education Department has made other changes such as giving more flexibility in how to test students with limited English skills and allowing for children with the most severe learning problems to be held to a different standard.
"Education policy is not about passing laws in Washington," said Bush, a former educator.
Several school-board members said they admired the goals of No Child Left Behind but didn't think it was being funded properly.
"I think it's a good law that gives states flexibility,"
said Clarice Chambers, a former president of the National School Boards
Association from the Harrisburg (Pa.) City School District. "I
think the current funding is insufficient."
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