Vermont submits federal education plan

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(Host) Vermont education officials are putting the finishing touches on a plan to implement key provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act. The plan has to be submitted to the federal government this week.

As VPR’s Steve Zind reports, state officials are more optimistic about the law than they were a year ago. But they still have serious concerns:

(Zind) When the sweeping new law was enacted just over a year ago, education officials around the country expressed concerns about its requirements. There’s fear that a huge number of schools will be branded as failures; that the federal government won’t give the states the money it will take to implement No Child Left Behind.

A key part of the law calls for increased student testing. Right now, Vermont students are tested at the fourth, eighth and tenth grade levels. The No Child Left Behind Act calls for testing every year from fourth grade on. That will increase Vermont’s testing costs by 300%. Bud Myers is deputy commissioner at the state Department of Education. Myers says initial fears that the federal government wouldn’t cover the costs have eased somewhat:

(Myers) “Assuming current levels of congressional support for the law, Vermont is probably in better shape that we had originally thought. But, like a lot of other things that have been written into unfunded federal mandates, if the federal support for the assessments were withdrawn, then Vermont would face a problem in funding these. We absolutely couldn’t.”

(Zind) Myers also says the assessment provisions of No Child Left Behind work for large schools, but not for states like Vermont where schools are small. The result could be a high number of Vermont schools labeled as ‘needing improvement.’ Myers says now the government says it might accept an assessment approach that’s better for Vermont schools. Myers says that kind of flexibility over the provisions of No Child Left Behind is a fairly recent development:

(Myers) “That said, there are some very challenging parts of this law where I think the U.S. Department of Education will do everything that it can now. It might not have wanted to do that earlier, but now it really does seem to be serious about crafting both approvals of these state programs and regulations in such a way that flexibility is there. The provisions are negotiable.”

(Zind) Myers says No Child Left Behind is still a work in progress. Myers says there are a lot of unanswered questions to be resolved over the next few months before key provisions of the plan are implemented in Vermont.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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