Title I: Education Needs to Monitor States' Scoring of Assessments
April 10, 2002
General Accounting Office
Is the E.S.E.A. "state compliance" glass one third full or two thirds empty? The General Accounting Office recently issued a report saying that, as of March 2002, just 17 states "were in compliance with the 1994 assessment requirements" and 35 were not. Eight years after enactment, that's a miserable record that bodes ill for the implementation of No Child Left Behind (the newly enacted E.S.E.A. amendments). It led the GAO to observe that "many states may not be well-positioned to meet the requirements added in 2001," indeed that "the majority of states will still be working on meeting the 1994 requirements as they begin work toward meeting the new requirements." Many states, moreover, "still appear to be struggling with ensuring that assessment data are complete and correct"-another troubling sign, considering the centrality of testing in the 2001 amendments. Two-thirds empty, one might fairly conclude. But on April 8, the Education Department issued a cheery press release onto which some eager spinmeister in the public affairs office affixed the headline "All states now in compliance with 1994 ESEA." How could that be? Read the fine print. What the Department was really announcing what that 18 states "have fully approved assessments systems under the 1994 law" (New Hampshire having lately been added to the GAO tally) while the other 34 now all have waivers, extensions or formal "compliance agreements." In other words, two-thirds of the states have entered into explicit understandings with the Education Department that, at some future date certain, they will have in place assessment systems that comply with the 1994 amendments. But they don't have them in place today. The Department can fairly claim credit for cleaning up a big backlog of states whose compliance status was indeterminate when Secretary Paige and his team arrived on the scene. That clean-up was long overdue and has now been done. But it's a bit like saying we've now documented every student in the class whose term paper is late and have entered into agreements with them as to when they'll turn in the overdue papers. It doesn't mean the papers are in, much less that they're any good. The GAO's glum forecast strikes us as more noteworthy than the Education Department's commendable progress in resolving the paperwork backlog that it inherited from the Clinton Administration. The point, let's occasionally remind ourselves, is to ensure that states are doing what they should to ensure that poor kids learn more, not that the federal bureaucracy has its in-box cleared. If you'd like to see the GAO report (GAO-02-393), surf to http://www.gao.gov/docdblite/summary.php?recflag=&accno=A02849&rptno=GAO-02-393. If you'd like to see the Education Department statement, go to http://www.ed.gov/PressReleases/04-2002/04082002a.html.