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Promising Results, Continuing Challenges:
Final Report of the National Assessment of Title I


Title I Since the 1994 Reauthorization

Title I is the largest federal education program, now providing over $8 billion per year to fund system-wide supports and additional resources for schools to improve learning for students at risk of educational failure-particularly in schools with large concentrations of low-income children. Six years ago, the U.S. Department of Education reported to Congress on the effectiveness of the program as it operated as Chapter 1. That 1993 report, Reinventing Chapter 1: The Current Chapter 1 Program and New Directions, which drew from the Prospects longitudinal study, concluded that in order for the program to effectively support all students in meeting challenging standards, fundamental change was required. Many of the report's recommendations were adopted in the 1994 reauthorization of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and in the Goals 2000: Educate America Act. The legislation introduced a new federal approach built around a framework of standards-driven reform. The premise of this approach was that challenging standards would promote excellence and equity, and link Title I, along with other federally supported programs, to state and local reform efforts.

Promising Results

Since reauthorization, the National Assessment of Title I has evaluated the implementation and impact of the program and finds promising results as well as continuing challenges in carrying out reform. The recent achievement gains of students whom Title I is intended to benefit provide clear indication that Title I, and the larger educational system it supports, is moving in the right direction.

Student Outcomes

An examination of trends in the performance of students in the nation's highest poverty public schools, as well as progress of the lowest achieving students shows positive gains in reading and math performance since the reauthorization of Title I. These trends are further substantiated by the progress reported by some states and districts with three-year trends in achievement.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) provides student performance results through a long-term trend assessment and a more recent main assessment that reports on proficiency levels. Special analyses of these assessments show that:

Exhibit 2
Trends in NAEP Reading Performance

Average Scale Scores of 9-Year-Old Public School Students, by Poverty Level of School (1988 - 1996)

Exhibit 2

Highest-poverty school = 76% to 100% of students eligivle for free or reduced-price lunch. Low-poverty school = 0% - 25% of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Scale scores are 0-500.

Exhibit 3
Trends in NAEP Mathematics Performance

Average Scale Scores of 9-Year-Old Public School Students, by Poverty Level of School (1988 - 1996)

Exhibit 3

Highest-poverty school = 76% to 100% of students eligivle for free or reduced-price lunch. Low-poverty school = 0% - 25% of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Scale scores are 0-500.

Three-year trends reported by states and districts show progress in the percent of students in the highest-poverty schools meeting state and local standards for proficiency in math and reading. These states and districts all had three-year trend data, broken down by school poverty levels.

Resources, Instruction and Related Supports

Title I schools are benefiting from improved resource targeting, improving alignment of curriculum with standards, and a more cohesive school program through greater use of the schoolwide option and clarification of parent roles through Title I compacts.

Resources. Changes in within-district allocation provisions, enacted in the 1994 amendments, have improved targeting of funds to the highest poverty schools. Almost all (95 percent) of the highest-poverty schools in the nation received Title I funds in 1997-98, up from 79 percent in 1993-94. These additional funds have gone primarily to serve more of the highest-poverty schools, rather than to increase the intensity of services in these schools. School districts use 90 to 93 percent of their Title I funds for instruction and instructional support - most often in reading and math.

Exhibit 9
Proportion of Highest-Poverty Schools That Receive Title I Funds

Exhibit 9

Highest-poverty school = 76% to 100% of students eligivle for free or reduced-price lunch

Instruction. The emphasis on linking federally supported Title I services to state and local reform efforts is influencing practice in high-poverty schools. Principals in high-performing, high-poverty schools report using standards to guide curriculum and instruction, and using standards to assess student progress. Additionally, teachers in districts implementing standards-based reforms are more likely than their colleagues in other districts to be familiar with content and performance standards and assessments, and their curriculum is more likely to reflect the standards.

There is also evidence of progress for students in high-poverty schools where staff members focus on challenging standards and strategies that help students achieve them. Preliminary findings from a study of instructional practices in 71 high-poverty elementary schools show:

Schoolwide approaches can help support a cohesive plan that integrates resources to focus on learning.

Continuing Challenges

Despite progress since the 1994 reauthorization, continuing challenges remain to be addressed.

Large performance gaps between highest-poverty schools and other schools. While the performance of students in high-poverty schools is improving, they remain much further behind their peers in meeting basic standards of performance in both reading and math. In 1998, the percent of fourth-grade students in the highest-poverty public schools who met or exceeded the NAEP Basic level in reading was about half the national rate, and progress in reading overall is only back to 1988 and 1990 levels. For math, the percent of students in the highest-poverty schools scoring at or above the Basic level was two-thirds that of the national average.

Yet some states are showing that students in their highest poverty schools can perform at national levels—indicating that it is possible to bring these students to high levels of achievement. In nine states, the percentage of fourth-grade students in the highest-poverty public schools achieving at or above the Basic level exceeded the national average-showing that higher performance is attainable.

Exhibit 6
Sate NAEP 4th-Grade Mathematics, 1996

Percentage of Students in the Highest-Poverty Public Schools
Performing At or Above Basic Level, by State

Exhibit 6

Highest-poverty school = 76% to 100% of students eligivle for free or reduced-price lunch

Limited assistance to the neediest schools. Schools enrolling the highest concentrations of poor children are most likely to be identified as in need of improvement, and the capacity of states and districts to provide them with assistance is often limited. In 1998, only 8 states reported that school support teams have been able to serve the majority of schools identified as in need of improvement. In 24 states, Title I directors reported more schools in need of school support teams than Title I could assist. Approximately one-third of high-poverty schools identified for improvement had not received any additional professional development or assistance as a result of being identified.

Inappropriate staffing and inadequate teacher preparation. A significant number of Title I schools—particularly those with high concentrations of low-income children—continue to employ non-certified paraprofessionals as instructional aides. Aides comprise half of the instructional staff funded by Title I. Only 10 percent of instructional aides in the highest-poverty schools possess college degrees, but aides are often found providing instruction.

Along with the evidence that high-achieving high-poverty schools focus attention on challenging standards for all students, comes the reality that many teachers are not prepared to teach to challenging standards. In a 1998 survey, only about one-third of teachers in schools with 60 percent or more poor children believe they are well equipped to use standards in the classroom. This is particularly noteworthy given evidence that teachers' reported preparedness in both subject matter and instructional strategies had a positive relationship with student gains.

Inadequate implementation of parent involvement provisions. Although the percent of schools with parent compacts rose from 20 percent in 1994 to about 75 percent in 1998, there remain 25 percent of schools with no parent agreements. A substantial majority of schools find compacts helpful in promoting parent involvement, especially higher poverty schools, but principals continue to identify lack of parent involvement as one of their major barriers to reform.

Weak Title I accountability or dual accountability in some States. Full implementation of the accountability requirements under Title I is not required until final assessments are in place in the 2000-01 school year. During the transitional period, states are making progress in developing definitions of adequate yearly progress and identifying schools and districts in need of improvement. States further along in developing performance standards tend to have more clearly defined accountability systems with consequences.

Two major concerns for the Title I program are the compatibility of Title I accountability with state accountability systems and the limited capacity of states and districts to provide technical assistance to schools identified for improvement.

Improvement Options

Stay the Course: Maintain an Emphasis on Challenging Standards for All Students

Gains by students in the nation's highest-poverty schools, coupled with evidence that aligning instruction with challenging standards can substantially increase student achievement, point to the need to stay the course of focusing instruction on challenging standards for all students. Though there has clearly been progress in implementing standards at all levels, full implementation in classrooms across the country has yet to be accomplished. States, districts, and schools need to continue to implement standards that challenge all students to achieve at high levels, and to align curriculum, teaching, and assessments with those standards. Reauthorization should address the continuing challenges that limit Title I's capacity to be a stimulus and support for better results for our nation's at-risk students.

"Targeted High-Performance School Grants" to Strengthen the Highest-Poverty Schools

The continuing weak performance of the highest-poverty schools, those with poverty in excess of 75 percent, remains as one of America's most pressing educational problems. Although all Title I schools need additional resources and assistance, the highest-poverty schools are the neediest not only in terms of their populations served, but also in terms of the progress they must make to improve their current performance. In these schools, seven out of every ten children are currently achieving below even the basic level of reading.

Reauthorization should focus on the extraordinary needs of the highest-poverty schools to improve teaching and learning for our most at-risk students, while holding these schools accountable for continuous improvement in student results. If these grants were to target an additional $1.3 billion, or about 15 percent of current Title I funds, they would be sufficient when combined with current Title I funds and a 25 percent local match to enable the highest-poverty schools to:

In turn,

These monies would raise the average amount of Title I funds that the highest-poverty schools receive annually by 50 percent to an estimated $336,000 for each school. These new monies could go out under the current formulas to states and districts for their schools with poverty rates of 75 percent or higher. If states lack schools in the highest poverty category, they would receive a minimum grant to be spent on their most impoverished schools.

The resources to support the Targeted High-Performance School Grants could come from increases in Title I funding and an off-the-top set-aside for these schools in related federal programs such as 21st Century Learning Communities, Reading Excellence Act, Technology Literacy Challenge Fund, GEAR UP and Class Size Reduction. A set-aside of one-third of the FY 2000 monies from these five programs for these highest poverty schools would provide about $990 million under the Administrations FY 2000 budget request. The remainder to bring the total to $1.3 billion could come from channeling the $320 million proposed increase in Title I funding to these new grants.

Targeting additional funds to schools with high concentrations of low-income students has advantages over targeting on low performance. First, high-performing, high-poverty schools should not be penalized for their progress. Nor should low-performing schools be rewarded for a lack of effort. High-performing schools need support, recognition, and encouragement to sustain their gains. In addition, targeting funds on the basis of poverty is consistent with the process for allocating funds currently and would not require a different mechanism.

Strengthen Instruction

Progress in using Title I to support improved instructional practices at the school-level remains limited by the continued use of paraprofessionals who provide instruction-particularly in the highest-poverty Title I schools. Paraprofessionals in high-poverty schools tend to have less formal education than those in low-poverty schools, and they are often assigned to teach-sometimes without a teacher present. While many paraprofessionals have invested large amounts of time and effort working in Title I schools, and are an important part of the school community, it is imperative that priorities for their services be based solely on the needs of students. Phasing out their use in instruction and promoting their use as parent liaisons or in administrative functions should be a priority.

Reauthorization should also support the establishment of career ladder programs for paraprofessionals, so that those desiring to become credentialed would be supported in doing so. These programs could include what some districts are doing already, based on recent survey data.

Reauthorization should include resources for the development of ongoing consumer guides on effective practices. Schools are moving toward adopting curriculum and whole school reform models to frame their improvement efforts. However little independent research has been conducted to evaluate the efficacy of comprehensive school reform models and better understand the conditions under which they can succeed. The federal government should make such research and evaluation of comprehensive model programs a priority through systematic study and annual reporting in a consumer guide. To ensure the integrity and independence of model appraisal, a quasi-governmental agency might be established to oversee the integrity of the evaluation process and reporting of results. This information would enable schools to become better-educated consumers in selecting and implementing models most likely to fit their circumstances and contribute to improved results.

Strengthen Parent Involvement

The general direction of Title I parent involvement policies and compacts on supporting learning is consistent with research, but options that would strengthen implementation include:

Focus on Accountability

The use of school profiles designed to report school results and progress has been shown to be a powerful tool for accountability and school improvement. However, profiles often do not effectively reach parents and community members. They tend to be difficult to read, even for the well-educated parent. They are also limited in their scope of information, with few school report cards presenting information on teacher quality or student rates of progress. Also schools are limited by a lack of comparable statewide or national information on what they are able to accomplish. The federal government should facilitate state and local school district efforts to provide coherent, comparative information on school progress to their communities.

The reauthorization should also ensure that accountability provisions identify schools in need of improvement based on the best measures available to states and districts-regardless of whether their final assessment systems are in place. Schools already identified for improvement, should remain so; time should not be lost as a result of reauthorization in identifying and reaching schools with the greatest needs.

Reauthorization should address eliminating dual accountability systems. For Title I to be an effective lever for improvement, it needs to be aligned and supportive of the systems states are creating.

Finally, Congress and those responsible for implementing and supporting Title I programs should recognize that state and local systems of standards, assessments and accountability are in flux and are likely to keep changing over time. Even established systems such as those in Kentucky and Kansas, which were forerunners in the development of aligned systems of standards and assessments, have revised their efforts to reflect priorities of their state legislatures and boards. The law should recognize this and offer states and districts the flexibility to continue to implement measures of school accountability under these conditions.


This National Assessment of Title I has examined the program in the context of the burgeoning standards-based reform movement in states and school districts. Though there has clearly been progress in implementing standards at all levels, full implementation in classrooms across the country has yet to be accomplished. The new directions proposed for reauthorization are designed to help speed up standards implementation, to help all children achieve at high levels. Reauthorization should address the continuing challenges that undercut Title I's capacity to be a stimulus and support for better results for our nation's at-risk students.

Submitted March 1, 1999

For additional information on the National Assessment of Title I, please contact:

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