ESEA Frequently Asked Questions

Standards, Accountability and Student Testing

Teacher Quality

Paraeducators

ESEA - FAQ Answers

What is the Elementary and Secondary Education Act?

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) authorizes and regulates the majority of federal K–12 education programs. Congress first enacted the law in 1965 to improve achievement among poor and disadvantaged students. Every five to six years, Congress must reauthorize the law; however, Congress allocates funds annually. Over the years,Congress has amended and added to the original law in order to raise standards, build in accountability, and provide flexibility to schools and districts using federal education dollars so that they can continue to help disadvantaged children. This most recent reauthorization of the law, officially called The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, contains many significant changes. The questions and answers that follow address many commonly voiced concerns about the changes in ESEA and what they mean for teachers, paraprofessionals, parents, and, of course, children.

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I often hear people refer to this law as “Title I.” What’s the difference?

ESEA 2001 has an immediate impact on NJEA members because it is far more specific than past versions of the law and it deals with testing, accountability (AYP), and teacher and paraeducator quality.Title I is the largest single program in ESEA and the best known, but it is one of many programs.The focus of this Q & A is Title I because that is where the testing and accountability provisions appear. What makes this law different from earlier reauthorizations is that it applies to all schools and teachers not just Title I schools. The ESEA law is broken down into several sections, or “titles.” The section that contains the provisions that deal specifically with “ensuring that all children have a fair, equal and significant opportunity to obtain a high quality education and reach proficiency on challenging State academic assessments…” is Title I of the law. Title I provides for the largest amount of funding, authorizing the allocation of about $13 billion in grants for Fiscal Year 2002 to school districts around the country. Its provisions affect schools most directly so it is referred to interchangeably with “ESEA.” Other titles deal with issues such as charter schools, English acquisition, teacher quality/class size, Indian education, drug-free schools, and civil rights protections. This Q & A deals only with Title I and related provisions that have an impact on a significant number of members, including Title II of ESEA, which addresses the important area of teacher quality.

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What does it mean when people talk about a Title I eligible school?

The federal government uses various complex formulas to allocate Title I funds to counties and school districts. School districts determine Title I status for individual schools based upon either the percentage of free-lunch eligible students or the percentage of students living within the school’s attendance zone who are receiving public assistance.The list of Title I eligible schools is public information that you can obtain from your State Department of Education or the individual school districts.

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What are some of the permissible uses for Title I funds?

Schools and districts may use Title I funds for a variety of purposes. In addition to the mandated uses of Title I funds there are a variety of permissive uses. For example, they may use the funds to provide additional help to students performing below certain standards, provide additional after-school or summer programs, implement exemplary reading and math programs, reduce class size, hire paraprofessionals, or provide professional development. Schools and districts may not use these funds to pay for educational programs or services to which students would ordinarily be enti- tled. The commonly used guide for the use of Title I funds is they may “supplement, not supplant” local funds.

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What’s the difference between a Title I targeted assistance school and a school-wide program school?

A “regular” or targeted assistance Title I school is one in which the Title I service can only be provided to those students with significant educational needs.This targeted assistance may involve one-on-one tutoring, small group instruction, after-school programs, and/or pullout programs. A Title I school-wide program may be used in a school that has a poverty enrollment greater than 40%. These schools can use the Title I funds to benefit all the students in the school. School-wide program participation may be voluntary on the part of staff, parents, and administration of the school. Funds in these programs are often used to reduce class size, introduce new reading or math programs, or provide professional development for all teachers, paraprofessionals, and other support staff.

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How does the new Title I law hold schools and districts accountable?

The new law requires all students, not only those eligible for Title I services, to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). AYP will be the measure of student improvement against which schools will be judged for purposes of meeting federal standards. A school’s failure to make AYP over a number of years will lead to a series of corrective actions that may ultimately result in restructuring, closure, or takeover of the school by the state or a private management company.

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How is AYP determined?

According to Title I, each state must set measurable goals for student achievement on state tests in order to ensure that students are “proficient” (as defined by the state) in reading and math within 12 years. Using the 2001-2002 school year as the baseline set of scores, states will be required to set numerical targets (in each subject and grade) for the percentage of students who will be expected to be proficient over the next 12 years. Other indicators of AYP such as high school graduation and school retention rates are also required.

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Which tests will be used to determine AYP?

The new law requires that there be annual reading and math assessments for all students in grades 3–8. States will select and administer their own tests and they have until the 2005-2006 school year to develop and implement these assessments.When the new tests are introduced, they will replace the current ones. The law authorizes federal funding for the development of these tests.

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Are there any other testing requirements?

States are also required to develop science content standards by 2005-2006 and begin administering state science assessments in the 2007-2008 school year. Science assessments will be required at least once in grade 3–5, 6–8, and 10–12.Finally, states will be required to participate in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) every other year, provided that federal funding is sufficient to cover the cost of test administration. However, the results of NAEP cannot serve as the basis for sanctioning states, school districts, schools, or students.

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What if tests already exist in these grades?

NJEA is very concerned that implementation of these testing requirements does not result in duplication of existing tests or overall excessive testing of students.
ESEA states that the assessments must:

  • Be the same for all students
  • Aligned with the state’s content standards
  • Involve multiple, up-to-date measures, including measures that assess higher order thinking skills
  • Be valid, reliable, consistent with nationally recognized professional and technical standards
  • Produce individual student interpretive, descriptive, and diagnostic reports that allows parents, teachers, and
  • administrators to assess the specific needs of students
  • Enable itemized score analyses to be produced to the needs of each student with respect to specific test questions
  • States will have to decide whether their current tests fulfill these requirements.

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Who has to take these tests?

All students must take these tests.Results of these tests will be “disaggregated”within each state by school district, school, as well as by gender, each major racial and ethnic group, disabled status, limited English proficient (LEP) status, economically disadvantaged status, and migrant status. Each subgroup must make AYP. Further, the law requires the same goal for all student sub-groups.

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Does the law require that special education students be tested as well?

Yes.The law requires that students with disabilities, English language learners, and all others be tested; however, appropriate modifications and accommodations (consistent with IDEA) are permitted, where needed, for students with special needs.

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What happens when a school does not make AYP?

The new law imposes sanctions primarily based on the basis of students’ performance on state assessments and other indicators of AYP. Sanctions are grouped into three categories, which existed in concept in the prior law: school improvement, corrective action, and school restructuring.The timeline for the imposition of sanctions is as follows:

A school that fails two years in a row (Years 1 and 2, or 2002–2003 and 2003–2004) to meet adequate yearly progress — or the numerical goal set by the state for that academic year — for all subgroups of students will be placed in school improvement status (Year 3). In the first year of school improvement, a school will be required to: prepare a two-year improvement plan; use at least 10 percent of its Title I funds for professional development; provide public school choice (if allowable by state law) with 5–15 percent of Title I funds to pay for transportation costs to implement school choice; notify parents of the school’s status; receive technical assistance from the school district; and receive federal school improvement funds.
If a school fails to meet AYP for three consecutive years, it is placed in a second year of school improvement (Year 4). Such schools will be required to continue the activities from the first year of school improvement, including public school choice, and provide supplemental services such as before and after school tutoring to low-achieving, disadvantaged students within that school. Parents will choose providers of supplemental services from a list of state-approved providers, which may include the district or outside groups, including community-based organizations or for-profit companies such as Sylvan Learning Systems. An additional 10 percent of the school district’s Title I funds may be used for either these services or transportation for public school choice.
If a school again fails to meet AYP, it is then placed in “corrective action” (Year 5). Such schools must continue to provide public school choice and supplemental services, and do at least one of the following: implement a new curriculum, decrease local decision-making, appoint an outside expert, extend the school day or year, replace staff relevant to failure, and/or restructure internal organization.
If a school again fails to meet AYP, it is placed in a second year of “corrective action” (Year 6). Such schools must continue to provide public school choice and supplemental services, and a plan must be prepared and arrangements made for restructuring, including at least one of the following: reopen as a charter school, replace the principal and other staff deemed relevant to failure; turn the school over to a private management company, turn the school over to the state, or other measures that constitute making major reforms.

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What if a school is already designated ”school improvement?”

Schools that are currently (as a result of the 1994 ESEA law) in the first year of school improvement will be deemed to be in the first year of school improvement under the new law. As a result, these schools will be required to implement public school choice in the 2002-2003 school year. Likewise, schools that are currently in their second (or more) year of school improvement will be deemed to be in the second year of school improvement. As a consequence, these schools will be required to offer supplemental services.

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How will teachers and parents know how well their schools are doing?

Beginning in the 2002-2003 school year, states, and school districts must publish annual report cards in an easy-to-understand format to inform parents and the community. These report cards will provide information about student achievement on state assessments compared to other students in the state and district, graduation rates, schools that are in need of improvement, and teacher qualifications.

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What is meant by “highly qualified?”

The definition of “highly qualified” in the law requires that public elementary and secondary school teachers must have obtained full state certification, or passed the state teacher licensing examination; hold a license to teach in the state; and not had a certificate or license requirement waived on an emergency, temporary, or provisional basis.

New teachers:
Elementary teachers who are new to the profession must hold a least a bachelor’s degree and must demonstrate, by passing a rigorous state test, subject knowledge and teaching skill in reading,writing,mathematics, and other areas of the basic elementary school curriculum.
Secondary school teachers who are new to the profession must hold at least a bachelor’s degree and must demonstrate a high level of competency in each of the academic subjects they teach. This may be accomplished by either passing a rigorous state subject matter test or completing an undergraduate major in the subject, a graduate degree, or coursework equivalent to an undergraduate academic major.

Current teachers:
Elementary, middle, and secondary teachers who are not new to the profession must hold at least a bachelor’s degree and must have met the applicable standard in paragraphs one and two above.Teachers who do not meet the above qualifications may demonstrate competence in all the academic subjects in which the teacher teaches based on a high objective State standard of evaluation.

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When does this requirement for highly qualified teachers go into effect?

Starting with the 2002-2003 school year, all newly hired Title I teachers must be fully qualified. In addition, the new law requires each state to develop and submit to the U.S. Secretary of Education, as part of its Title I plan, provisions to ensure that all teachers who are teaching core subjects (e.g., English, math, science, social studies, foreign languages, art) are highly qualified by the end of the school year 2005-2006. The plan must include annual, measurable objectives towards this goal.

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What happens if the district does not make progress toward meeting the measurable objective for that year?

Districts that fail to make progress toward meeting the measurable objectives after two consecutive years are required to develop an improvement plan and the state department of education is required to provide technical assistance. After the third year of failing to make progress, the state department and the district must agree on how the district’s funds are used, and the district must implement activities in conjunction with the State Department.

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Is there any funding to support these teacher quality requirements?

Title II of ESEA provides grants to states, districts, colleges, and universities as well as other eligible partners to carry out one or more activities, including: reforming teacher and principal certification; providing ongoing professional development for teachers, paraprofessionals, and principals; implementing teacher recruitment and mentoring programs; and promoting teacher license and certification reciprocity among states.The law gives great flexibility in what these programs may include.

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With all this flexibility in the use of funds, is there any money for reducing class size?

A number of the programs from the previous law, most notably the class-size reduction initiative and the Eisenhower Professional Development program, were combined under the teacher quality title. This provides an opportunity to use increased funding (more than 35 percent) to hire additional teachers to reduce class size. In addition, school districts have more flexibility to use funds to reduce class sizes in all grades, not just K–3.

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How are Title II funds allocated?

A formula based on poverty levels and student population will determine each state’s allocation but the amount will not decrease from previous years.

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Are there any new allowable uses of Title II funds?

Although the emphasis is on supporting and improving teacher quality, several of the new allowable activities may present significant challenges.Use of the funds for tenure reform, teacher testing, merit-based performance systems, and differential and bonus pay is specifically mentioned. However, there is no federal requirement that states and districts use funds for these programs.The law clearly states that the funds may not be used in ways that are in violation of state or local laws or collective bargaining agreements.

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With all these changes is there any way to know that state and local authorities are actually following the law?

There is already a mechanism on the books to help ensure compliance with ESEA. It’s called the “Committee of Practitioners.” Each state department of education is required to have such a committee. Membership consists of teachers, paraprofessionals, parents, administrators, and others involved with Title I schools and students. The majority of members must be from districts around the state. The main job of this committee is to review the development and implementation of state Title I plans. It also can be a very strong watchdog group to prevent any misuse or misapplication of the law while advocating for students and teachers in some of our neediest schools and districts.

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How do you know if a paraeducator is a Title I paraeducator?

Many programs that receive Title I funds use part of their allocation to hire paraeducators. There is no difference in pay, just in the source of funds. If you are not sure whether or not a paraeducator is being paid through Title I funds, the paraeducator’s school principal should be able to tell you. If this is the case then the paraprofessional will have to meet all the requirements in the new law.

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What if a paraeducator is not a Title I paraeducator?

These changes will still have a significant effect if a paraeducator has to move into a Title I program or if the district uses Title I funds to pay the paraeducator’s salary. In general, however, the requirements in Title I usually become a standard; in other words, it would be wise for paraeducators to meet the Title I requirements within the next few years if they don’t already.

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What are some of the changes regarding qualifications for currently employed Title I paraeducators?

Current Title I paraeducators:
Paraeducators who are currently working in a program that receives Title I funds, have four years (by January 2006) to meet one of the following conditions:

  • Complete two years of post secondary education
  • Be a high school graduate who can demonstrate on a “formal state or local academic assessment” the skills necessary to assist in the classroom instruction of reading,writing, and mathematics

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Are all Title I paraeducators subject to these new requirements?

The only exemption from these new requirements is for Title I paraeducators who provide only translation or parental involvement assistance. All others must meet the new standard.

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Are there any changes in the law for newly hired Title I paraeducators?

Yes, under the new law paraeducators in Title I programs hired after January 8, 2002 will have to meet a new set of standards. In order to become a paraeducator in a program that receives Title I funds,a newly hired paraeducator must meet one of the following conditions:

  • Complete two years of post secondary education
  • Be a high school graduate who can demonstrate on a “formal state or local academic assessment” the skills necessary to assist in the classroom instruction of reading,writing, and mathematics

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Is there any help that a Title I paraeducator can get to meet these requirements?

The law allows districts to use Title I funds to support ongoing professional development for paraeducators to assist them in satisfying the requirements.The law also allows the use of funds for programs to recruit “highly qualified”paraeducators into teacher certification programs.

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What if a paraeducator is not in a Title I program, how does this affect him/her?

If a paraeducator does not already meet the Title I requirements for paraeducators then it may be wise to do so. In the future it may be a possibility that the district will need to change the source of funding for a paraeducator position to Title I. In that case, the paraeducator would need to meet the new requirements. Similarly, many districts may only want to hire new paraeducators in any area who meet Title I qualifications to ensure the greatest flexibility in assigning and retaining paraeducators.

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What are some of the duties that a Title I paraeducator may perform?

The new law specifically lists the allowable duties of paraeducators and prohibits requiring paraeducators to provide any instructional services unless under the direct supervision of a teacher.

Allowable duties are:

  • One-on-one tutoring
  • Assisting with classroom management
  • Providing assistance in a computer laboratory
  • Conducting parental involvement activities
  • Providing support in a library or media center
  • Acting as a translator
  • Paraeducators may assume limited duties that are assigned to similar personnel not working in a Title I funded program, including duties that do not benefit Title I students. However, the amount of time spent on such duties must reflect the same proportion of total work time as similar personnel at the same school.

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Are there any other changes for paraeducators in the law?

Another major part of the law that may affect paraeducators is related to the Title II requirements of teacher quality. According to this section of the law, if the school district fails to make AYP for three consecutive years in increasing the percentage of highly qualified teachers, as defined in the law, then the state must prohibit the use of funds to pay for hiring new paraeducators. Nevertheless, the state may allow funding for paraeducators to fill vacancies, or to add staff due to increased student enrollment.This should not affect currently employed paraeducators.

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