Feds give states more time to bolster struggling schools

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WASHINGTON (AP) — States will have more time to identify failing schools as part of new Obama administration rules aimed at supporting troubled public schools and students who are struggling.

The rules, released Monday, provide a broad framework for states as they design new accountability systems to improve schools and narrow achievement gaps. It’s a key part of the bipartisan education law passed almost one year ago and signed into law by President Barack Obama to replace the No Child Left Behind Act.

Republicans and teachers unions had complained that the draft rules released in May didn’t provide states with the time they needed to assess schools in need of help.

Education Secretary John B. King Jr., says the department considered concerns from Congress, civil rights groups, teachers and others before issuing the updated rules.

“The final rules give states more time and flexibility to provide every student with a high-quality, well-rounded education while ensuring that states and districts keep the focus on improving outcomes and maintaining civil rights protections for all of our children, particularly those who need our support the most,” King said in a statement.

Under the new education law, states may design accountability systems that consider measures beyond test scores and high school graduation rates. States may decide what weight to give to each of those indicators of success — and others such as school climate, advanced coursework and chronic absenteeism — as long as they measure the performance of all students, including “sub-groups of students” such as racial minorities, children from low-income families, and special education students.

States will have to single out the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools and high schools with graduation rates below 67 percent. Under the new regulations, states will get an additional year — until the 2018-19 school year — to identify those schools. And schools with “consistently underperforming” subgroups of students will have to be identified by the 2019-20 school year.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said he will review the final rules before deciding if Congress needs to intervene. Alexander — a chief architect of the new education law — said he would have moved to overturn the earlier version of the regulation “because it was not authorized by the new law, and included provisions specifically prohibited by the new law.”

The new law overhauling No Child shifts significant control over education policy back to the states. Students will still be required to take annual math and reading tests in third through eighth grade and once in high school. But, other measures such as school climate could be considered when evaluating school performance.

The accountability systems will have to provide a summative rating for schools — an overall rating — but also specific information for parents and the public about how schools performed on the individual measures that states choose to incorporate into how they evaluate schools. States, the regulations say, could choose rate schools in broad categories, such as those in need of comprehensive improvement or targeted support, or they can choose others ways to judge their schools.

States are currently developing their new systems and will have to submit them to the Education Department for review by Sept. 18, 2017.