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Implementing the Complexities of NCLB

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\par Wisconsin's Approach to Overcoming the Law's Challenges and Closing the Achievement Gap

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\par The technology component of the No Child Left Behind Act, Title II, Part D, "Enhancing Education Through Technology," made some significant changes to what states must do to receive technology money, as well as how that money is to be used within the state. States must submit an application to the U.S. Education Department (ED) that addresses each of the 15 requirements cited in the law. These requirements include such items as how a state will improve student achievement through the effective use of technology, how students and teachers will have increased access to technology, and how the state will ensure that teachers and principals are technologically literate.

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\par If ED approves the state's application, the state can keep up to 5% of its allocation to carry out its activities, while the remaining 95% of a state's technology money is to be used to fund local school districts' subgrants. Fifty percent of the subgrant money is to be allocated to school districts that qualify for Title I money in the same proportion as they received their Title I money; this is an allocation, not a competitive grant. The other 50% of the subgrant money is awarded through a state-determined competitive process. In order to be eligible for a subgrant (either Title I-related or competitive) local districts must submit an application containing a new or updated technology plan that is consistent with the state plan and contains any additional information a state deems important. This article describes Wisconsin's approach to implementing the competitive portion of the subgrants described above.

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\par Forward March!

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\par Wisconsin's state motto is "Forward," which is pretty much the way we have been moving since taking on the challenge of implementing the complexities of NCLB. We were very fortunate that just prior to the enactment of the law, Wisconsin's state superintendent of schools, Elizabeth Burmaster, introduced the "New Wisconsin Promise." This program has priorities very similar to those of the federal education act, with its major goal being to close the achievement gap. Therefore, when NCLB was authorized, Burmaster appointed an internal coordinating committee made up of director-level midmanagers. These managers administered federal title programs to implement the new law, ensuring these funds were used to keep within the requirements of NLCB and the New Wisconsin Promise.

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\par One of the committee's recommendations was to appoint a State Superintendent's Advisory Committee to administer the education technology funds available through NCLB's "Enhancing Education Through Technology" proposal. This committee was a logical outgrowth of a similar group that successfully advised on the previous federal technology grant program, the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund (TLCF).

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\par Wisconsin is home to the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) and its 100,000 students; it also serves K-12 districts with as few as 125 students. Therefore, we were very aware when setting up the State Superintendent's Technology Education Advisory Committee that its membership had to reflect the range of district sizes and the diversity of students statewide. We also included representatives from a cross section of various organizations, universities and colleges. The committee's mission was to navigate through a comprehensive and complex law to ensure that the funds were distributed equitably to districts that demonstrated plans consistent with our state objectives. We met a number of challenges along the way, each of which we dealt with as its own unique problem but always in the context of the greater goal of the law: to close the achievement gap.

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\par Challenge 1: Finding a Funding Formula

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\par Since many of our small districts did not qualify to apply for the competitive funding individually, we expected many consortia to be created (or, in some cases, continued from previous grant processes). So, one of the first charges for the Advisory Committee was to determine direction, as well as a scale of funding for individual districts and for con-sortia of different sizes. We came up with guidelines for the maximum amount local education authorities (LEAs) could request in their RFP application for the competitive grants, which is shown in the chart below.

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\par Necessarily, MPS, with its large enrollment and number of students in poverty, fell outside of these guidelines. The committee determined that MPS could apply for 15% of the distributable funds, which is the same percentage they received in the previous year under TLCF. In addition, NCLB requires that a minimum of 25% of grant money be used for professional development. However, Wisconsin had already been requiring that 70% of its TLCF grants be used for professional development. We didn't want to diminish our commitment to professional development, so our fiscal 2002 competitive grants required that at least 60% of the budget requested be used for professional development on integrating technology into curriculum.

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\par Challenge 2: Education & Dissemination

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\par Our next task was to let districts know how to apply for the funds. We held two videoconferences, including 16 at sites around the state, to provide technical assistance to districts and consortia in completing the competitive grant applications. (Earlier we had held workshops for Title II, Part D, formula grants.) The process allowed eight weeks to write the competitive applications. And our efforts paid off: we logged and reviewed for eligibility 44 competitive applications submitted. Only two did not qualify because they failed to meet the "high poverty" requirement as mandated by NCLB and defined by the state.

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\par Challenge 3: Who (and How) to Review?

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\par We wanted to ensure that the external review team included a broad range of expertise and experience, such as representatives from other state agencies and higher education, so we solicited volunteer readers from the field who had not been involved in writing any of the applications.

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\par The review process had the reviewers working off-site, with a half-day orientation to the grant process. All reviewers read the same application as part of the orientation, then met in pairs to discuss their findings, develop a final score, and complete the scoring forms and comments. We also brought the group together to discuss how they scored the application. This provided them with a full understanding of the way the process worked. Then, they continued to work in groups of two or three to examine the rest of the proposals and discuss their findings until all applications were scored. All scoring forms and comments were returned to the applications' writers at the end of the review process.

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\par Challenge 4: Final Review

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\par Since scoring is only part of the evaluation, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (WDPI) staff reviewed all other criteria, such as geographic distribution. Our advisory committee recommended that at least one subgrant be awarded in each of our 12 Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA) regions of the state. Since the Title I formula grants ended up distributing funds to almost every district (all but 29) statewide, we may not need to follow this suggested dissemination for competitive awards in the future.

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\par The Advisory Committee provided the state superintendent with a list of applications for review and final decision, which they recommended for funding. Many of the requested budgets were reduced for various reasons, including reader comments, federal requirement of "an equitable distribution among urban and rural areas," and other criteria identified by the Office of the State Superintendent. When we reduced the budget, we allowed applicants to decide which part of their application would be changed or cut. In November 2002, we awarded 23 grants, involving 204 districts, with implementation beginning upon notification. Projects will be completed by June 30, 2003, and project performance reports will be filed online to ED by December.

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\par Challenge 5: Assessment & Accountability

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\par The Advisory Committee met in October to determine recommendations for needs assessment and accountability. We felt this was one weakness in the TLCF program - there was not enough baseline or post-grant data to determine if the funding made a difference. We also knew there would be some performance reporting required of states and LEAs receiving the funds. We were looking for an assessment process that would provide us with more than just "perception data" about the effective use of technology and allow us to be compatible with federal law.

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\par Several options were discussed, but the unanimous decision was to require funded districts to participate in the enGauge process (www.ncrel.org/engauge) to determine baseline data and effectiveness. EnGauge is an online and on-site program developed by the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL) with the Metiri Group. It provides districts with a framework for understanding the systemwide factors that influence the effective use of educational technology, as well as an online assessment tool that districts and schools can use to measure systemwide effectiveness.

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\par We determined that all districts that received Title II, Part D, competitive funding were required to do the online part of the enGauge process, while selected others would do the on-site portion of enGauge as well. Although there was a bit of apprehension in having to complete the enGauge requirements, we were pleased that 87 districts registered for both the online and on-site parts of the training this semester, including some that received no grant at all but wanted to "engage" along with their fellow districts in the process.

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\par Challenge 6: Reporting Results

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\par Districts that completed the full enGauge process in 2002 were allowed to use that data for reporting. We intend to have a third of the districts in each consortium do the full on-site enGauge process annually until all LEAs receiving funding have baseline data. Then, we will ask them to do the full online and on-site enGauge process after three years of professional development intervention. We expect these results will be sufficient to meet the federal reporting requirements and assist LEAs greatly in their school improvement process. Currently, NCREL is assisting the WDPI in developing a "School Improvement" planning tool that will be used by districts with schools in need of improvement.

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\par Challenge 7: Updating Technology Plans

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\par Part of the NCLB requirement for states is that they either update their existing plan or develop a new state technology plan. Since most of the recommendations in our original state technology plan, written in 1996 with an addendum published in 2000, have been implemented or addressed, our state superintendent appointed a statewide task force to create a new technology plan. We hired a retired educator to facilitate the work of the group with the goal of publishing the document by mid-March. This plan will be submitted to ED for future funding approval.

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\par In addition, E-Rate, NCLB and Advisory Committee eligibilities require that each district has a technology plan, as some of our state-technology funding programs do. There is also a state requirement that school boards and districts must have a long-range library media plan on file. To assist our districts in creating combined long-term media/library and district technology plans, we are currently providing free workshops to our districts on how to do just that. Two consultants from the Instruc-tional Media and Technology Team - one with school library background and the other a technology consultant - are leading the workshops. We've urged districts to bring teams of educators, and the response and attendance have been overwhelming. It is obvious we are meeting a great need, with more workshops scheduled for the spring semester.

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\par Challenge 8: Onward & Upward

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\par While many of these initiatives are taking time to implement, we believe that we are on the right track. Also, with the assessment and accountability requirements in NCLB, we believe that districts currently participating in enGauge and the formal planning process for developing a combined technology plan to meet state and federal requirements will know what their needs are, as well as be better able to meet future federal requirements. The process the state developed should assist in bringing about school improvement and implementing professional development for quality teachers. We believe that all we are doing in the area of education technology helps to meet the goals of the New Wisconsin Promise and the intent of NCLB requirements.

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\par Resources

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\par Details about many of the items referred to in this article are available at www.dpi.state.wi.us, as well as on our team Web page at www.dpi.state.wi.us/dltcl/imt. Another great resource is Wisconsin's Information Network for Successful Schools (www.dpi.state.wi.us/sig/index.html), which is made up of four sections: "Standards and Assess-ment," "Data Analysis," "Continuous School Improvement" and "Best Practices."

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\par Neah J. Lohr is director of the Instructional Media and Technology Team at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. She can be reached by e-mail at neah.lohr@dpi.state.wi.us.

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\par SETDA Releases NCLB Technology Toolkit

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\par In April, the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), the principal association representing the state directors for educational technology, released the SETDA National Leadership Institute (NLI) Toolkit titled "States Helping States Implement No Child Left Behind." SETDA has been working to provide assistance to states in implementing NCLB. In December 2002, SETDA hosted the first annual National Leadership Institute on Evaluation where state participants worked together with research and evaluation experts and U.S. Education Department staff to produce the Toolkit. During the workshop, participants carefully examined five areas of the act:

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  1. Scientifically Based Research
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  3. Technology Literacy Assessment
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  5. Common Data Elements
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  7. Evaluating Effective Teaching and Learning
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  9. National Education Technology Plan
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\par Each chapter of the SETDA NLI Toolkit provides an overview of the topic discussed, a set of tools for education leaders, and a set of "next steps" for continuing to help states in implementing the NCLB Act. \f1 Members may access t\f0 he SETDA NLI Toolkit online at www.setda.org/content.cfm?sectionID=56.

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This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.

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