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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, December 14, 2001

House backs plan requiring annual reading, math tests

Yearly reading, math tests gets mixed local reaction

By Greg Toppo
AP Education Writer

WASHINGTON — The House yesterday overwhelmingly passed President Bush's broad education plan that would require millions of students to take annual reading and math tests. For the first time, the scores could affect how much federal funding schools get and how they spend it.

The 381-41 vote gave Bush a bipartisan victory on what he has said was the top item on his domestic agenda. Senate passage was expected next week, which would allow Bush to sign it before Christmas.

"We can no longer accept the level of failure that we have in the past, and this legislation says that we won't," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who helped write the bill.

The House and Senate spent months refining the massive Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which provides most of the funding and overall regulation for K-12 education.

GOP Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, who led the committee that forged a compromise between the House and Senate versions, said it would help fulfill the government's promise of "no more false hope for our children, no more broken promises and no more mixed results."

In addition to the testing, the bill would require schools to come up with plans to close the achievement gap between low-income and middle-class students as well as white and minority students.

States and school districts would get more freedom over how they spend federal dollars. Money intended for teacher improvement, for example, could instead pay for salary increases or additional instructors.

Districts would have to submit annual "report cards" showing a school's standardized test scores compared with others schools, both locally and statewide.

Schools would have to test students with limited English skills in English after students had spent three consecutive years in a U.S. school. Schools also would also get a share of Bush's signature reading program, which provides nearly $1 billion per year for the next five years, in hopes that every student can read by third grade.

Overall, the bill authorizes $26.5 billion for elementary and secondary education in the 2002 budget year, which began Oct. 1. That would be about $8 billion more than the year before, and about $4 billion more than Bush requested, but nearly $6 billion less than Senate Democrats wanted. The actual amount could be lowered once Congress makes its annual spending decisions.

The annual state reading and math tests, to be given to all students in grades three through eight, would gauge the effectiveness of schools, especially those serving poor students. Those with persistently low scores would have to give some of their federal aid to students for tutoring or transportation to another public school. More aid would flow to schools where scores do not improve for two years in a row. If scores do not rise afterward, a school's staff could be changed.

The tutoring provision was added to the bill in the spring after Republicans failed to gather enough support for private school vouchers, which Bush and conservatives sought.

During debate then, the bill was criticized by both liberals and conservatives over what was left out.

Conservatives said removing the vouchers program meant the bill was little more than an expensive testing mandate, without an "escape valve" for families whose children attend low-scoring schools. On Thursday, several voted to reject the measure, including Majority Whip Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas.

Some lawmakers wondered how much help low-income students would get.

"It is a giant step forward, but we are still far away from making sure poor children do not end up with a poor quality instructor and poor quality teaching materials," said Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., a voucher proponent, said he was not completely satisfied with the bill, but liked the tutoring, flexibility and report-card provisions. Hoekstra voted to reject the bill, joining 32 other Republicans, six Democrats and both of the House's independent members.