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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has said the government will be flexible in enforcing the No Child Left Behind law -- but only with states committed to the law.
However, after the announcement, state Rep. Margaret Dayton was pessimistic about the chance of resolving the state's education dispute with the federal government before the April 19 special legislative.
Speaking Thursday to state school chiefs and other education leaders, Spellings said, "States that understand this new way of doing things will be gratified."
For example, states that cooperate with the administration -- mainly by raising student test scores -- will be allowed to hold many more children with disabilities to different academic standards.
Spellings will favor states that don't challenge principal points of the law -- yearly testing of students in reading and math in grades three to eight, and public reporting of scores for all major groups of students. She wants proof that states are raising achievement.
And she's inclined to work with states that do even more than the law requires, including the yearly high school testing that Bush wants in federal law but Congress hasn't endorsed.
However, Dayton, sponsor of a bill that would put Utah's education goals ahead of federal requirements, said, "At minimum, we're looking for a written statement that assures the state of Utah full control of governance and accountability measures in Utah schools. (That) is still our bottom line.
"If they approve our growth model (for complying with NCLB) ... that changes a lot of things. (But) the likelihood of that happening between now and the special session is not great," she said.
Spellings is to visit Utah April 15 to discuss the dispute with state leaders, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said.
No Child Left Behind aims to have all students, regardless of race, poverty or disability, read and do math on grade level by 2014. It judges schools' progress toward the goal every year.
Dayton's bill had unanimous support in the House but was put on hold until the special session when Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. asked time to negotiate with the feds for more flexibility.
Concessions being sought by the state include holding off on testing English language learners for three years instead of one and permission to use Utah's own accountability system, U-PASS, to meet NCLB standards.
"I think we've gotten a win on having the federal government recognize Utah's approach to special education," Huntsman education deputy Tim Bridgewater said. "I don't think the bill hurts. I think in fact (Spellings') announcement is in (line with) the spirit of the bill. It is not an opt-out bill. It is one that says state standards should prevail."
Critics of the Utah approach say it may not provide enough accountability on education of minority students. Utah's proposal says schools would not be held accountable for student achievement unless there are at least 40 students in a group, such as low-income or minority children, but will report performance of groups of 15.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)