No Child Left Behind Act:

Education's Data Improvement Efforts Could Strengthen the Basis for Distributing Title III Funds

GAO-07-140: Published: Dec 7, 2006. Publicly Released: Dec 7, 2006.

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Title III of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLBA) designates federal funds to support the education of students with limited English proficiency and provides for formula-based grants to states. This report describes the data the Education Department used to distribute Title III funds and the implications of data measurement issues for the two allowable sources of data-- American Community Survey (ACS) and state assessment data--for allocating funds across states. In addition, the report describes changes in federal funding to support these students under NCLBA and how states and school districts used these funds as well as Education's Title III oversight and support to states. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed documentation on ACS and state data, interviewed federal and state officials, and collected data from 12 states, 11 districts, and 6 schools.

Education used ACS data to distribute Title III funds, but measurement issues with both ACS and state data could result in funding differences. Education used ACS data primarily because state data were incomplete. In September, Education officials told us they were developing plans to clarify instructions for state data submissions to address identified inconsistencies. While Education officials expected their efforts to improve the quality of the data, they told us that they had not established criteria or a methodology to determine the relative accuracy of the two data sources. State data represent the number of students with limited English proficiency assessed annually for English proficiency, and ACS data are based in part on responses to subjective English ability questions from a sample of the population. ACS data showed large increases and decreases in numbers of these students from 2003 to 2004 in part due to sample size. ACS data and state counts of students with limited English proficiency for the 12 study states differed. GAO's simulation of the distribution of Title III funds for fiscal years 2005 and 2006 based on these numbers showed that there would be differences in how much funding states would receive. In fiscal year 2006, Congress authorized over $650 million in Title III funding for students with limited English proficiency--an increase of over $200 million since fiscal year 2001 under NCLBA. This increase in funding as well as the change in how funds are distributed--from a primarily discretionary grant program to a formula grant program--contributed to more districts receiving federal funding to support students with limited English proficiency since the enactment of NCLBA. States and school districts used Title III funds to support programs and activities including language instruction and professional development. Education provided oversight and support to states. Officials from 5 of the 12 study states reported overall satisfaction with the support from Education. However, some officials indicated that they needed more guidance in certain areas, such as developing English language proficiency assessments that meet NCLBA's requirements. Education is taking steps to address issues states identified.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Education clarified instructions relevant to the collection of data on the number of students with limited English proficiency assessed annually for English proficiency on the Consolidated State Performance Report (CSPR) by changing the related CSPR question for the 2007-08 CSPR in a manner that allows it to collect information on how many students were assessed, and how many were proficient. This question continued to be used on the upcoming 2008-09 CSPR.

    Recommendation: To address the need for reliable and complete state data on the number of students with limited English proficiency assessed annually, the Secretary of Education should clarify the instructions on the portions of the Consolidated State Performance Report relevant to the collection of data on the number of students with limited English proficiency assessed annually for English proficiency.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2008, the Department of Education awarded a contract to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to address the concern raised in the GAO report regarding the accuracy of the two allowable sources of data. The NAS established a panel of experts and held several panel meetings to analyze the data and related decision criteria to come up with recommendations on the use of these two data sources. A report was issued by the National Research Council of the National Academies for distribution after January 10, 2011. There were five recommendations issued. The study recommended that the English Language Learner (ELL) pupil count for determining allocations to State Education Agency Title III funding for ELL programs be based on a 25 state weighted/75 American Community Survey weighted formula. The report, which was sent to the Department of Education, may be obtained at: www.nap.edu.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the basis for Education's distribution of Title III funds, the Secretary of Education should develop and implement a transparent methodology for determining the relative accuracy of the two allowable sources of data, ACS or state data on the number of students with limited English proficiency assessed annually, for Title III allocations to states.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2009, Education officials reported that for the FY 2009 Title III appropriation, Appropriations Act language stated "In the event a State experiences a drastic fluctuation in the estimated number of limited-English-proficient and immigrant children in a given year, as estimated by the American Community Survey (ACS), such that the fluctuation would result in a 10-percent or greater decrease in the State's Title III allotment from the previous fiscal year, the Department shall determine the affected State's allocation using an average of the most recent 3 years of data (based on the ACS) for the number of limited-English-proficient and immigrant children residing in such State." In addition, Education stated that their staff worked with congressional drafters on the current language for FY 2010 which states "For carrying out part A of title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, $760,000,000, which shall become available on July 1, 2010, and shall remain available through September 30, 2011, except that 6.5 percent of such amount shall be available on October 1, 2009, and shall remain available through September 30, 2011, to carry out activities under section 3111(c)(1)(C): Provided, That the Secretary of Education shall use estimates of the American Community Survey child counts for the most recent 3-year period available to calculate allocations under such part."

    Recommendation: To address volatility in annual ACS data, the Secretary of Education should, as part of NCLBA reauthorization, seek authority to use statistical methodologies, such as multiyear averages.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

 

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