Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act has provided federal assistance to schools to meet the educational needs of disadvantaged students. The Congress substantially overhauled the program by shifting from a focus on remediation to high standards and accountability for higher achievement. For the first time, the law spelled out requirements for full inclusion of students with limited English proficiency in Title I programs, assessments, and accountability systems. California is an especially important state with respect to Title I reforms because it receives substantially more Title I funding than any other state. Twenty-two percent of California’s children fall below the federal poverty line, and the achievement of its students- especially its poor-African American, and Latino students, has lagged behind the rest of the country.
California is one of the most critical states in the nation for the standards-based reform movement but it has had an inconsistent record of addressing the needs of its students.
However, California districts have seen an influx of new funding in the last several years. The state plans to hike general fund spending on education. Only 19% of California’s fourth-grade students were at or above proficient on NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) in reading, and among poor and minority students only 8% of Black, 7% of Hispanic, and 6% of free/reduced price lunch-eligible students were at or above proficient. One third of its ninth graders failed to graduate from high school four years later. The numbers for Black and Latino students are higher; 44% of Black and 45% of Hispanic ninth graders failed to graduate on time, or at all.
At the fifth grade level, only 8% of English language learners were above the national average in reading. In math, 51% of all English-fluent eighth graders met or surpassed the national average compared with 15% of ELLs (English Language Learners).
Studies have found that third-grade students enrolled in reduced-size classes performed slightly better than those who were not and that the gains were found across all socioeconomic levels. There has been some criticism of the program, however, because the program prompted the rapid hiring additional teachers in California, many with little or no experience. Proponents of English-only instruction attribute ELL students gains in some school districts to the legislation while proponents of bilingual education maintain that the gains are due more to reduced class sizes and greater accountability.
School districts and individual schools are required by federal law to provide evaluation and accountability data that indicate specially funded students are learning the district’s core curriculum. State laws and regulations also require that a district have results of an annual evaluation which demonstrates that each of its participating schools is implementing consolidated programs which are effective under criteria established by the local governing board.
The state indicates that the standards adopted for ELLs and former ELLs and immigrant students in the core subjects should be the same standards as those required for mainstream students. ELLS are expected to receive English language development until they are redesignated as fluent in English. In addition, all students will continue to take the Stanford test in science appropriate to grade level enrollment. Each pupil is required to take the high school exit exam in grade 10 and may take the examination during each subsequent administration, until each section has been passed.
In addition to taking the designated test in English, ELLs who are enrolled in California public schools less than 12 months must also take a test in their primary language if one is available. The CDE (California Department of Education) guidance further suggests that, whenever possible, assessments of subject matter areas such as mathematics, science, social science, health, and other courses required for grade-level promotion should be administered to ELLs in the language in which they are best able to demonstrate their knowledge of the subject matter.
For their local accountability system, districts are encouraged to use multiple measures in reading/ language arts and in mathematics for all students. The U.S. Department of Education has informed the CDE that the state’s assessment program may not be in compliance with Title I requirements for final assessments. Key requirements in the federal law that must be met by California education officials include uniform statewide policies to ensure full inclusion of all students in assessments, disaggregation of assessment results by major racial and ethnic groups as well as migrant status, and compliance with Title I’s requirement for the use of multiple measures. Growth targets are set for each significant ethnic subgroup and the school as a whole. Schools that meet or exceed growth targets will be eligible for monetary and non monetary awards. Schools that continue to fall below their targets or do not show significant growth may be subject to local interventions or eventually to state sanctions.
The CDE reports it is working to align state and federal requirements into a single state accountability system. Title I schools will be identified for program improvement when they have failed to make adequate yearly progress for two consecutive years. Notwithstanding recent progress, California still has a long way to go before it is in full compliance with federal requirements. The state has yet to:
– demonstrate that the statewide test is aligned with state content and performance standards. This is important because California has chosen to use a nationally norm-referenced multiple-choice test as the centerpiece of its new school accountability program.
– develop valid and reliable multiple measures of student performance. The current statewide standards for determining adequate yearly progress are based solely on the schools’ scores and do not yet incorporate multiple measures of student performance required by Title I.
– provide for appropriate inclusion of ELLs in the assessment and accountability program. At present, ELLs are assessed largely in English even though state law requires students to be tested in the language in which they are most likely to yield accurate and reliable information on their skills and knowledge.
– provide the resources, capacity building, and other assistance to schools and districts to ensure that all students have the opportunity to learn and to achieve high standards. In particular, class size reduction reforms have left many children in high poverty schools without fully qualified teachers or adequate classroom space.
There is reason to doubt whether the corrections and improvements needed to come into compliance with federal law can be made in time to satisfy statutory deadlines. Both state and federal education officials are challenged to devise a compliance and implementation plan for California that will make good on the promise that all students reap the benefits of standards-based reform.