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Franken amendments part of NCLB rewrite

WILLMAR -- The U.S. Senate has a bipartisan federal education reform proposal ready for consideration, but the next steps in the process will depend on what is developed in the House, Sen. Al Franken said Friday morning.

There is agreement in both houses of Congress that No Child Left Behind, the current law, needs to be revamped. However, a path to rewriting the law is not clear.

The Senate has gotten as far as passing a bipartisan bill out of committee that reforms NCLB and reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Several of his amendments are included in the bill, which was passed out of committee with bipartisan support, Franken, D-Minn., said Friday morning in a telephone interview with the West Central Tribune.

A major goal of the Senate bill is to get rid of the Adequate Yearly Progress system while continuing to hold schools accountable for the education they deliver.

AYP has labeled about half the schools in Minnesota as substandard as measured on annual standardized tests.

The Senate bill replaces that system with one that measures student growth from fall to spring. Franken said teachers all over Minnesota have spoken to him about the need to measure growth.

The Senate would allow states to hold schools accountable by measuring student growth. Current law judges schools on the number of students who are doing work at their grade level.

He used the example of a sixth-grade teacher who takes a child from reading at a third-grade level to reading at a fifth-grade level during a school year. "That teacher is a hero," he said, "but under NCLB, that teacher is a goat."

Franken's amendments include allowing schools to use computer adaptive tests. Results are available right away with a computer test, he said. School officials in Minnesota wait several months for test results under the current system.

A computer adaptive test can adjust its questions to a student's ability and deliver a true measure of the child's academic age. Many schools in Minnesota already use adaptive such tests to measure student growth.

The current system judges school performance on "an arbitrary level of proficiency," Franken said. "This helps expend the focus to all kids."

Franken traveled around the state to talk with teachers and administrators about how the program was working. He took that information back to Washington and has worked with senators from both parties to pass his amendments.

The computer adaptive testing amendment passed with strong bipartisan support, Franken said. While states won't be required to use the method, "I think they will want to do that; it's such a superior model," he said.

Another Franken amendment would set up a program to recruit and train principals to lead struggling schools and also develop a mentoring program for principals.

Foster children are the focus of another amendment Franken introduced. Foster kids sometimes have to switch school districts often, and it can affect their education, he said.

"My amendment ensures they can remain in their original school if that's in their best interests," he said. "Sometimes, the most constant person in a kid's life will be their teachers and other students."

Franken said he had offered other amendments, though they weren't part of the final bill. One was about developing recruiting science and technology funding and another about ensuring equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students who are bullied.

As to what happens next, that will depend on the Republican-controlled House, which hasn't passed a plan out of committee yet.

If the final plans appear to have room for compromise, "we may see it happen this year," Franken said.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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