U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige announced on March 29 at the National School Boards Association's annual conference in Orlando, Fla. that the U.S. Department of Education is relaxing the requirement for student participation rates in state tests.

States will be able to average participation rates over a three-year period. In addition students who are unable to take the test during the testing and make-up windows because of a medical emergency will not count against the school's participation rate.

In order to make the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) schools must demonstrate that at least 95 percent of all students participated in the Standardized Testing And Reporting (STAR) assessments. Participation is measured by total school population and by subgroup. Even if a school meets its proficiency goal but does not meet its participation requirement it will not make AYP.

Under the new policy, a state may use data from the previous one or two years to average the participation rate data for a school and/or subgroup as needed. If this two or three-year average meets or exceeds 95 percent, the school will meet the AYP participation requirement.

The policy also makes allowances for circumstances when a student cannot take the assessment during the entire testing window, including make-up dates, due to significant medical emergencies. Although students remain enrolled in the school during this period schools do not have to include these students when calculating their participation rates.

O'Connell is proposing an additional policy concerning parents who choose not to have their children take the state tests.

"Schools should not be penalized when participation is affected by factors outside of their control, like when parents opt their children out of testing, as state law allows in California." The newly announced policy revisions bring the number of changes accepted by the Department of Education to four.

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