Education Week - May 6, 2015 - (Page 24)

Advocates for Special Ed., Gifted Weigh Details in ESEA Rewrite Bill Elements of Senate measure cheered; some concerns cited By Christina A. Samuels The proposal to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that unanimously cleared the U.S. Senate education committee includes elements that please both advocates for students with disabilities and advocates for gifted students-including a cap on the number of students who can take lower-level state assessments and be counted as proficient, and an explicit focus on using federal funds to train teachers in best practices in gifted education. But as the bill approved April 16 heads to the Senate floor, advocates say some issues continue to be a concern, such as a lack of subgroup accountability in the proposal. Reporting on the test scores of students with disabilities has allowed schools and districts to focus more closely on lagging performance, many special education groups believe. The esea exists to level the playing field and to close gaps between student groups, said Denise Marshall, the executive director of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, based in Baltimore. "We can't imagine moving forward on a bill that moves back on that promise," she said. Those concerns suggest that when the bill comes up for a full Senate vote, there may be more fireworks than were seen in the largely drama-free markup session in mid-April, where many amendments were offered but withdrawn to allow the bill to move forward without getting held up by partisan debate. A Focus on the Gifted Jane Clarenbach, the director of public policy for the National Association for Gifted Children, in Washington, said the organization was particularly gratified to see the needs of gifted and talented youths addressed in the proposed bill. The Senate proposal includes these elements for gifted education: * States would have to break out student performance by subgroup at each proficiency level. By doing so, advocates hope to use that information to draw attention to what is being called an "excellence gap": certain racial groups, students with disabilities, and students eligible for free or reducedprice lunches who are underrepresented among the highest levels of achievement. * The portion of the bill that focuses on improving teacher quality would allow the use of federal funds to train teachers in the best ways to teach gifted students, including students of high ability who have not been formally identified. * Districts receiving Title I funds would be authorized to report how they plan to use that money, which aids low-income students, to identify and teach gifted students. * An amendment to the bill would continue authorizing the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program, which funds research into best practices in gifted education, with a focus on underrepresented students. That amendment was brought forward by retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat from Maryland. The amendment does not set aside a certain amount of funding for the program, but it would ensure its continued existence. All the changes would amount to a significant boost for gifted students, particularly those from underrepresented groups, Ms. Clarenbach said. The Title I change would allow schools to explicitly note that there are high-achieving children in Title I schools who have needs that should be met. And the state reporting changes "give us an opportunity to have a lot of conversations that are hard to have otherwise," Ms. Clarenbach said. "When you have data, you can go to an official and start talking." Mixed Picture For students in special education, the bill offers changes that some advocates were looking for. But it is also notable for what it leaves unchanged. For example, under the current version of the esea, the No Child Left Behind Act, there is a 1 percent cap on the number of students who can take alternate assessments and be counted as proficient. That's equivalent to about 10 percent of students with disabilities. An earlier version of the bill would have lifted the cap, but disability organizations fought hard against that change. They argued that to remove the cap would lead to lower standards for students with disabilities. But that stance put some organizations in opposition to a group of parents and teachers who believe that standardized testing has not served students in special education well. "There's definitely a faction for whom the taking of those tests is so onerous that they would rather get rid of them rather than deal with the benefits they confer," said Ms. Marshall. Parents could take advantage of an amendment added to the bill by Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., that clarifies that states and districts cannot stop a parent from opting their child out of state tests. The bill also states that students who take alternate assessments cannot be stopped from attempting 24 | EDUCATION WEEK | May 6, 2015 | to get a standard diploma. Often, students get locked into an alternative track early in their school careers, Ms. Marshall said. 'Portability' Debate Another volatile issue-Title I "portability," or allowing federal money for disadvantaged students to follow a student to the public school of his or her choice-is likely to emerge in a floor debate on the esea rewrite measure. Amendments that would have opened the door to such flexibility, including one from Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., never made it into the bill approved by the education committee. But Sen. Scott intends to offer his amendment again if the bill comes up before the full Senate, and Sen. Alexander has said he would support such a change. The idea is opposed by groups including the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, in Alexandria, Va. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana, also offered multiple amendments on the issue of dyslexia, one of which would have allowed schools to use federal funds to train teachers in best practices in identifying and educating students with specific learning disabilities. About 40 percent of the students covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act have a specific learning disability. The amendment failed, amid concerns that it singled out a particular group of students, those with dyslexia, for special treatment. "I think it gives the impression, whether it's intended or not, that students with certain types of learning disabilities have more pressing needs than other students with disabilities," said Barbara R. Trader, the executive director of tash, a Washington-based support and advocacy group for people with intellectual disabilities. The proposed bill also would require states to adopt policies to prevent unnecessary use of restraint and seclusion in schools. The restra int -and-seclusion amendment was brought forward by Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut. It would require state departments of education to develop plans to protect students from abuse, and would prohibit aversive interventions that compromise students' safety, or any "physical restraint for seclusion imposed solely for purposes of discipline or convenience." Ms. Marshall said her organization would have liked to see stronger language, but said that the amendment gives the federal government more power to oversee state efforts around restraint-andseclusion prevention. BLOGS House Bill Aims to Increase Federal Role In Safeguarding Student-Data Privacy | DIGITAL EDUCATION | In a surprising turnaround, new legislation that would significantly increase the federal government's involvement in protecting student-data privacy was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives last week with support from educator groups. But the "Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act of 2015," pulled just over a month ago following sharp criticism over vendorfriendly loopholes, has so far received a lukewarm reaction from the ed-tech industry. The bill introduced by Reps. Luke Messer, R-Ind., and Jared Polis, D-Colo., would prohibit ed-tech companies from selling student information and targeting students with advertisements. Vendors would be required to meet a host of new requirements on everything from data security to data retention to breach notification, as well as to be more transparent about their privacy policies, the nature of the information they collect from students, and with whom they share that information. The Federal Trade Commission would be given enforcement authority over the industry. A host of educator groups have already endorsed the bill, including aasa, the School Superintendents Association, the International Society for Technology in Education, the National Education Association, and the National pta. But no broad industry-related groups were among the initial list of endorsers. The Software & Information Industry Association, a Washington-based trade group, expressed concern that if enacted, the bill, which would not supersede state laws, would create significant burdens for educational-technology companies. Qualified, Trained Title IX Coordinators Mandatory, Ed. Dept. Guidance Says | RULES FOR ENGAGEMENT | K-12 schools and higher education institutions that receive federal funding must have a qualified and trained Title IX coordinator to field complaints and monitor compliance with the civil rights law, the U.S. Department of Education said in new guidance. The guidance in an April 24 "Dear Colleague" letter and a guide about the key elements of the law-which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex or gender-should serve as a reminder to schools that they have "a critical responsibility" to have a coordinator who has "the authority and support necessary to do the job," Catherine E. Lhamon, the assistant secretary for civil rights, said in a statement. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 applies to a muchbroad range of obligations related to sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vt. Adds Name to List of White House Hopefuls | POLITICS K-12 | Move over Hillary Clinton-and Lincoln Chafee. There's a new declared potential contender for the presidency from the left side of the aisle: Sen. Bernie Sanders from Vermont, a self-described "socialist" and official Independent who "caucuses" (Congress-speak for "organizes") with Democrats. Sanders has been one of the earliest-and most outspoken- critics-from-the-left of the Obama administration's competitive grants, particularly Race to the Top, which he argues shortchanges rural schools. He's advocated for ensuring that teachers are highly qualified-he's not a fan of allowing alternative routes to count. Sanders (along with the rest of the Senate education committee) voted to support a bill to revise the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that leaves standardized testing intact. And he likes that the bill would allow states to dial back the role that standardized tests play in their accountability systems. (It's worth noting that if the Green Mountain State had its way, it would have been able to substitute local tests for statewide assessments in some grade spans through a waiver from provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, the law's current version.) In fact, back in 2012, Sanders was slated to meet with "Occupy the doe" protestors about allowing students to opt out of standardized testing. (Yes, before it was cool.) Sanders has also been vocal on higher education issues, calling for a serious shakeup of the college loan system to make postsecondary education more affordable for students, and seeking to expand loan forgiveness for students who choose to work in public service jobs, such as teaching. -BENJAMIN HEROLD -EVIE BLAD -ALYSON KLEIN

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - May 6, 2015

Education Week - May 6, 2015
Some Balk as Testing Rolls Ahead
Nevada Exams Hit Tech Trouble
Science Standards Pop Up in Districts
Undocumented Students Strive to Adapt
State Takeover Gives Mass. District a Fresh Start
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Chicago Schools Probe Prompts AASA to End Alliance With Firm
Researchers Target Ways to Design Better Mathematics Text Materials
GED Revisions Spur Bumpy Year for Equivalency Exams
After Baltimore Unrest, Students and Educators Seek Understanding
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: New Research Probes Frontiers of Tech Learning
Blogs of the Week
Efforts to Change Federal Aid Formulas Prove Tricky
New Research Emerges On LGBT Parents
Advocates for Special Ed., Gifted Weigh Details in ESEA Rewrite Bill
Blogs of the Week
Marriage Issue Gets Full Airing at High Court
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace

Education Week - May 6, 2015