Saturday, April 23, 2005

Texas Fined for No Child Defiance

------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- | Section: Local & State

April 23, 2005, 12:00AM

Toe the line, education chief warns the agency she once headed
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - Education Secretary Margaret Spellings fined Texas $444,282 Friday for the state's continued defiance of the No Child Left Behind Act.

For the last two years, the Texas Education Agency has exceeded the federal cap on how many students with learning disabilities can be exempted from regular state testing, mandated by the act, in favor of an easier exam.

In a stern letter addressed to Texas Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley, Spellings said "the TEA has not shown cause why" she should not withhold the money from the agency's 2004 federal grant.

"The TEA's proposed amendment was not consistent with the law and the regulations, and something the Education Department could not approve," Spellings wrote.

It is only the second fine ever levied against a state under the 2001 landmark education law. It is also the steepest.

Minnesota was fined $113,000 by Spelling's predecessor, Rod Paige, for not testing an adequate number of students in 2003.

In January, Paige threatened to fine Texas for noncompliance, but he gave the state time to submit a defense.

Spellings, formerly of Houston, who took over later that month, was not convinced by the state's justification of its actions.

Texas' fine comes a little more than two weeks after Spellings announced that she would offer more flexibility in meeting No Child Left Behind requirements to states that otherwise adhere to federal rules.

But Texas had flouted the federal guidelines.

Neeley's defiance touched off a public dispute between her and Spellings, who helped design the original No Child Left Behind Act in Texas when she advised then-Gov. George W. Bush from 1994 to 2000.

Neeley was accused of exempting the extra students to falsely inflate state scores. In response, she said the Education Department was out of touch with needs of students in Texas.

Texas may be subject to further sanctions.

The federal limit on the number of students who can take the special exam remains capped at 1 percent, and Texas again exempted nearly 9 percent of its students during the current school year.

"We're going down another path where there's going to be another standoff," said Patty Sullivan, director of the Center on Education Policy in Washington. "They're probably going to fine the state again this year."

But education experts said the penalties were not severe enough to force Texas to change its guidelines.

The $444,282 fine represents a fraction of Texas' $1.1 billion federal allocation, and a sliver of the state's $33 billion annual public education budget.

"Texas got a slap on the hand for breaking a fundamental principle of No Child Left Behind. Now any other state that doesn't comply is going to expect a similar financial penalty," said Scott Young, a policy adviser for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"Texas called their bluff. Apparently, the department's not going to jeopardize public education in Texas and the individual students there. I can only imagine what Utah and Connecticut are thinking right now."

On Tuesday, Utah's Legislature passed a resolution that declares federal education laws subordinate to state policy.

Last week, Connecticut officials announced plans to sue the Education Department for the right to disregard federal rules, saying the federal government fails to provide enough money.

It is unclear how Texas will return the money from its 2004 federal allocation, all of which has been spent. Officials at both TEA and the Education Department were unavailable for comment when the letter was released Friday at 7:20 p.m. EDT.


  1. The idea of fining cash strapped state education systems is ludicrous, regardless of how small the fine is when compared to the overall budget. My comments focus on some of the other implications of this piece.
    When high stakes testing began in Texas, students in special education were exempted from the process. Soon, there were reports of "dumping." In other words, low achieving students were inappropriately labeled as having disabilities and placed in special eduation programs. Special education became a place to hold students that could negatively impact scores instead of a system of services designed to increase the achievement of students who truly required special interventions. For this and other reasons, many scholars in the field of special education welcomed the inclusion of students with disabilites in the state assessment process. Many parents and public educators also supported the change. In fact, they insisted on it because it was feared that, otherwise, children with special needs would be too easy to ignore.
    I do think that our accountability system has to be reworked. It cannot continue to be a single indicator system that unjustly leads to grade retention and keeps students from graduating. However, I am uncomfortable with the idea of so many students with learning disabilities being allowed to take the state developed alternative assessment (SDAA) instead of the TAKS. Potentially, this can lead to lowered expectations and diminished opportunities to learn.
    I shoud perhaps be relieved that so many children are being given a reprieve from the pressures of testing. However, in the end, I believe this is just one more example of how students are pushed out and left behind in order to give the impression that the achievement gap is diminishing.

  2. The Bush administration "taught" Texas how to hide all of these kids and salvage your test scores and still report enough to make everyone happy. Now, The folks that engineered this crafty accounting are calling to count for it? I agree that there are a lot of students that do not need to be tested for any number of reasons, but to threaten us by withholding desperately needed funds? C'mon. I have heard defendants of NCLB say things like, it's a voluntary program, if you don't want to participate iis up to you. Hah! This is another glaring example of the Bush team trying to cover embarassing flaws in yet another unfunded mandate. How long oh Lord, how long?
    I realize I am rambling here, so I will make it short. It is clear that BushC. is having trouble with NCLB. So much trouble that they had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to Armstrong Williams to go pander this boondoggle to minority groups. Maybe the money they are trying to bilk Texas for is to cover their loss on that one? All I know is that if NCLB has an chance of working here in Texas they have to put up or shut up. The numbers we have exempted from NCLB standards are what they are, deal with it and lets get fair, equitable education moving in a more positive direction and out of the hands of the Fedreral government and big business.

  3. As a student who is not from Texas, I do not have nearly the clear understanding of high-stakes testing as many others do. I left high school in Virginia right before their testing really began. Okay, comments on the article. The part of the article that really caught my attention was what this fine will mean in relation to other states like Utah and Connecticut.

    Connecticut is considering suing the federal government because they are not providing enough funds for the requirements under NCLB. This may be one way to approach the problem, but it seems to me that suing the federal government for more funds is adding one more litigation layer to an already difficult education finance picture.

    The question is what a lawsuit would accomplish? Does the state really want more funds to comply with the NCLB requirements or is it more effective to approach the issue in the manner of Utah, in which the law itself is the focus, not the funds?

    I may not be adding any substantive facts to this discussion, but sometimes more questions are needed to be asked. In relation to Texas and children pushed into special education, how is the special test one of the other commentators mentioned different from the TAKS? Is it just simpler in grade level, is it modified from the original TAKS, or is it a completely unique test designed from the ground up for children with learning disabilities? Each of these approaches would yield a very different test.

    The same could be said of the Spanish language TAKS, which are translated or transadapted from a thoroughly researched TAKS test, but not as well researched and tested in Spanish. Therefore, as we've heard in class (and this came from a TEA official at an AISD meeting) the tests can be much harder in language.

    Assuming that testing is not going away, would it be more useful to adjust the passing levels on only one test for different groups or does it make more sense to develop separate tests from the ground up?

    Hopefully someone will read this and the questions can open another door to discussion, as I investigate these myself.

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