Bush Praises States for Education Measure

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Nevada joins list; Bush commends states for school accountability
President Bush praised the states Tuesday for embracing their marching orders: increase testing, improve teaching and raise student achievement.

Bush chose a sunny Rose Garden setting to announce that Nevada and 16 other states and territories have met accountability plans under his administration's No Child Left Behind Act. Thirty-five states met the standard earlier.

More broadly, the ceremony put a spotlight back on the president's original domestic priority, the landmark overhaul of elementary and secondary education.

"The era of low expectations and low standards is ending," Bush said. "A time of great hopes and proven results is arriving."

Bush and Congress had ordered states to adopt the measures under a law that won bipartisan backing in 2001.

Nevada was among the last states to meet the standard because state lawmakers didn't approve enabling legislation until Friday, said Keith Rheault, deputy state school superintendent.

Rheault said Nevada had been using the national Iowa Test of Basic Skills, and only tested students in third, fifth and eight grades. To meet the federal standard, the Legislature needed to also allow testing in grades four, six and seven, and state educators needed to adopt a test more specific to Nevada.

Rheault said that having adopted federal requirements to look beyond overall school statistics and also chart improvement in racial and economic categories, the number of Nevada's 520 schools categorized as "needs improvement" could more than triple from 42 this year to 150 next year.

"That will require additional planning and improvements and money," he said.

Approval of the state plans was expected this month, just as states were required to submit plans by the end of January. Still, Bush and other Republicans said both steps were meaningful mileposts, the kind states used to ignore.

"This is more than just a significant moment," said Education Secretary Rod Paige, standing next to Bush. "This is a watershed moment."

Education is traditionally a matter for state and local governments, which pick up about 90 percent of the cost. But the Bush-backed law created a more forceful federal role, as national leaders grew weary of stagnant test scores and lower achievement among minorities.

The accountability plans show how states will chart "adequate yearly progress" - not just for a school's overall population, but for subgroups, such as minorities and students who speak little English.

Federal intervention grows by the year for schools that receive federal low-income aid but don't show yearly improvement. The consequences include letting students transfer to another school in the district, providing private tutoring for free, replacing school staff and - after five years of school failure - letting the state take over.

"Some of those schools will undoubtedly have to make tough choices. That's OK," Bush said. "Remember what's at stake: When a student passes from grade to grade without knowing how to read and write, add and subtract, the damage can last a lifetime."

Overall, the goal is to get every child proficient in math and reading by 2013-14. Every core class must have a "highly qualified" teacher by 2005-06, the same year states must provide more testing, including annual math and reading tests in grades 3-8.

Parents get their own tools: more information about the quality of schools, and more flexibility to move their children out of a bad school. Many education stakeholders are still trying to understand the massive law, making the upcoming school year a time when true implementation will be tested.

"It's being received well," said Sandy Garrett, the chief school officer in Oklahoma. "The challenge is in making certain that it's paid for, and making sure all educators are included; getting information to every single classroom is the issue."

While the accountability push has stirred the debate over test-centered teaching, the most notable flap has been about money.

Bush proposes $53 billion for the Education Department next year, an increase of $2.8 billion, the largest for any domestic agency. The total includes $22.5 billion for No Child Left Behind programs.

Critics point out the No Child law authorized much more for certain programs, such as $18.5 billion for disadvantaged Title I schools, not Bush's $12.4 billion. Republicans say authorizations were meant to be caps, not promises. Democrats say that's a $6 billion excuse.

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(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)