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OVERVIEW OF 2005 SMALLER LEARNING COMMUNITIES ACTIVITIES: U.S. Department of Education Announces Special Competition to Evaluate Supplemental Reading Programs Targeted at “Striving Readers”

This spring, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) is administering two competitions under the Smaller Learning Communities (SLC) program. The first is a special competition that will fund a national evaluation of supplemental reading programs in freshman academies. The second will award SLC grants using new requirements and selection criteria.

The special competition, which the department has dubbed “Enhanced Reading Opportunities” (ERO), will serve as the national research evaluation of supplemental reading programs. Through the competition, OVAE will award ten to twelve SLC grants to local educational agencies that apply on behalf of two to four large public high schools that are implementing freshman academies. Each school will be able to receive up to $1,250,000 per high school to support SLC activities, plus the implementation of a supplemental reading program in each school. School districts can apply on behalf of eligible high schools whether they are current SLC grantees, have previously received SLC funding, or have never received any funding through the SLC program.

ERO will test the effectiveness of two supplemental literacy interventions targeted to “striving ninth-grade readers,” or students with reading comprehension skills that are two to four years below grade level and who are enrolled in freshman academies. The interventions will include direct classroom instruction, reading materials that are targeted to adolescents, ongoing student assessments, and professional development for teachers.

A panel of literacy experts from across the country selected the two supplemental literacy programs that will be evaluated: Reading Apprenticeship for Academic Literacy, developed and supported by WestEd; and the Strategic Instruction Model, developed and supported by the Center for Research on Learning at the University of Kansas.

The deadline for transmittal of applications for the special competition is May 16, 2005.

The second SLC competition will award grants to school districts applying on behalf of large public high schools to create and expand SLC structures and strategies. This year, the U.S. Department of Education is proposing to increase the amount of time schools can undertake SLC grant-funded activities-from three years up to five years-and to increase the maximum amount of funds available per grant-from $550,000 per high school to $1,175,000 per high school. School districts can apply on behalf of eligible high schools that have not yet received an SLC grant, or that received an SLC grant in 2000 and have now completed their SLC project.

A notice of final priorities and a notice inviting applications for the second SLC competition are expected to be published this month.

More information on the special competition, the supplementary reading programs that will be the focus of this evaluation, and updated information on the reading competition and the general SLC competition, which will be announced in a few weeks, is available on the SLC website at


Secretary Spellings Announces “A New Path” for NCLB


Last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced a new approach to implementing the No Child Left Behind Act that will give states additional alternatives and flexibility if they can show they are raising student achievement and closing the achievement gap. While the new guidelines, Raising Achievement: A New Path for No Child Left Behind, are a comprehensive approach to implementing the law, Spellings stressed that the “bright lines of the statute”-annual testing, reporting results by student subgroups, and highly qualified teachers-are not up for negotiation.

“Think of this new policy as an equation,” Spellings said. “The principles of the law, such as annual testing and reporting of subgroup data, plus student achievement and a narrowing of the achievement gap, plus overall sound state education policies, equal a new, common sense approach to implementation of No Child Left Behind. In other words, it is the results that truly matter, not the bureaucratic way that you get there. That’s just common sense, sometimes lost in the halls of the government.”

The new guidelines include the four key principles of NCLB: ensuring that students are learning; making the school system accountable; ensuring information is accessible and parents have options; and improving teacher quality.

More information on the new guidelines, including the secretary’s speech and fact sheets on the new policy and No Child Left Behind, is available at


1) In making its calculations, the Alliance took the number of students who entered ninth grade in 1998 from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Common Core of Data to establish a baseline. Then, assuming a four-year high school program that would make them potential graduates in 2002, the Alliance used Greene’s graduation rate data from the class of 2002 to determine the number of additional students who would graduate if the percentage of students of who did not finish high school in four years was reduced by 50 percent. Finally, the increased number of graduates was multiplied by three different dollar figures based on the average salary figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce. (back)
2) The CPI method is based on the “combined average success of groups of students moving from ninth grade to tenth grade, from tenth grade to the eleventh grade, from eleventh grade to twelfth grade, and from twelfth grade to graduation, at the district and state level.” This method “allows comparisons across years, districts and states” and is “useful for determining which subgroups experience the greatest difficulty of graduating from high school and whether progress in improving high school completion rates is being achieved.” More information on the CPI method is available at (back)
3) Using data compiled by the NCES, Hopkins researchers measured the “promoting power” of ten thousand regular and vocational high schools with enrollments of more than three hundred students. Information on the report detailing their findings is available at (back)

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