Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education announced that new awards through the Smaller Learning Communities program must focus on methods to improve reading and mathematics skills for students who enter high school significantly below grade level. This focus on reading and mathematics was a new requirement for the $161 million grant program.
Continuing the department’s new interest in adolescent literacy, two nonprofit research companies, the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and MDRC, are looking for high-quality supplemental literacy programs to participate in a research project that the department is funding. The study will examine the programs’ effectiveness in improving the reading skills of ninth graders who read two to four years below grade level. This project is part of the Evaluation of the Impact of the Supplemental Literacy Interventions in Small Learning Communities conducted by the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education. To be considered, the programs must address all aspects of reading, from advanced decoding skills to higher-level comprehension and writing, and must also consider issues of how to motivate adolescents to read. In consultation with an expert review panel, AIR will select two vendors of supplemental adolescent literacy programs that can be scaled up with a high degree of consistency. Even though two literacy programs will be selected, only one program will be assigned to a given school.
According to the request for proposals, the Office of Vocational and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education will run this competition within the Smaller Learning Communities program to “provide funds to districts with schools prepared to implement the new supplemental literacy programs within already existing freshman academies.” The compensation for the vendors’ provision of services and activities will come from federal grants to the participating districts through contractual arrangements with the grantee districts.
The study, a randomized field trial, will involve students enrolled in “freshman academies” in at least eight school districts and sixteen high schools. Each high school in the study will identify 100 to 125 striving readers based on eighth-grade reading assessments. From this group of ninth graders, approximately fifty students will be randomly selected to participate in the supplemental literacy program; the remaining students will be scheduled for a regular study hall or elective class. The study will take place during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 school years within a classroom setting of twelve to fifteen students per class. The students will receive a minimum of 225 minutes of literacy instruction per week, in either daily forty-five-minute classes or in eighty- to ninety-minute blocked classes every other day. The literacy class will be in addition to the students’ regular English or language arts classes.
The study will investigate the effectiveness of the two intervention programs compared with the “business as usual” English and language arts instruction that students normally receive as part of a ninth-grade curriculum. Outcome measures will include a diagnostic reading test (administered at the beginning and end of ninth grade to measure reading skill gains) and state reading test scores. Research will also focus on students’ grades in content-area courses, attendance, and inclination to stay in school.
A required “intent to bid letter” is due by November 15. Complete proposals are due by December 6. The contract award is anticipated by January 10, 2005. More information and the complete RFP are available at http://www.air.org/ale/ale-set.htm.
|Report Shows Rule Changes Could Help More Schools Satisfy No Child Left Behind Act
During 2004, forty-seven states asked the U.S. Department of Education to approve changes to their No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountability plans. A new report from the Center on Education Policy (CEP) concludes that these modifications have made it easier for schools and school districts to make Adequate Yearly Progress. In preparing its report, Rule Changes Could Help More Schools Meet Test Score Targets for the No Child Left Behind Act, CEP analyzed thirty-five official decision letters from the U.S. Department of Education to states that had requested amendments to their original accountability plans.
As explained in the CEP report, “Some of the changes requested by states are intended to take advantage of revisions made by the U.S. Department of Education in federal guidelines for testing students with disabilities, testing English language learners, and calculating the percentage of students taking state tests. Other changes proposed by states would provide more flexibility in areas not addressed by the revised federal guidelines or would allow states to adopt policies the department had already approved for other states.”
Three states-Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington-received permission to change their graduation rate targets. In Maryland and Pennsylvania, schools and subgroups of students can show progress if they meet state graduation rate targets of 81 percent or 80 percent, respectively, or show progress toward that goal-even if by only one-tenth of 1 percent. In Washington, state officials revised its graduation rate target down to 66 percent from 73 percent.
Other requests for changes reflected state-specific problems with the federal law. Overall, CEP says these changes have had a generally positive impact on schools trying to demonstrate AYP. The report concludes that such federally approved changes in state accountability plans may allow for short-term flexibility in implementation while maintaining NCLB’s long-term overall direction at the same time.
The complete report is available at