Victims of Lead Poisoning Are Losing Millions
In the late-‘80s and early ‘90s, thousands of children living in Baltimore tenements were being diagnosed with lead poisoning every year. Two decades later, the Washington Post digs into the “little-noticed, effectively unregulated netherworld of structured settlements"—and the structured settlement companies that are making millions of dollars off these victims and others like them. While regular settlements are paid out in one lump sum, structured settlements come in installments doled out each month for decades, the intention being that such an approach safeguards against “vulnerable recipients” blowing all the money. Structured settlement companies offer these recipients that lump sum in exchange for them signing over their settlement. The payout is generally pennies on the dollar.
The Post tells of a 20-year-old woman with irreparable brain damage due to lead paint exposure who sold 35 years of her future checks—ultimately worth more than half a million dollars—for less than $63,000. Advocates for these companies say they provide people in need with fast cash for bills, food, and school. “We really do try to get people the best deals,“ one CEO tells the Post. Looking at that CEO’s company, Access Funding, the Post found it often pays 33 cents on the dollar of the current value of the structured settlement. But not always. One 24-year-old lead victim got only 9 cents on the dollar. Freddie Gray and his siblings sold their lead-poisoning settlements to Access Funding for 20 cents on the dollar. Advocates claim the victims are being misled and lack the mental abilities to enter into these agreements. Read the eye-opening article in full.
Obama Gives Mount McKinley a New Name
Looks like North America’s tallest mountain won’t be Mount McKinley anymore. President Obama announced today that Sally Jewell, the secretary of the interior, has renamed it Denali—restoring a name that Alaska Natives and state residents have used for years, Alaska Dispatch News reports. “I think for people like myself that have known the mountain as Denali for years and certainly for Alaskans, it’s something that’s been a long time coming,“ says Jewell. The “secretarial order,“ released the day before Obama’s three-day trip to Alaska, appears to end a longstanding battle between Alaska and Ohio over who gets to name the 20,000-foot peak.
A gold prospector christened the mountain in 1896 after hearing that William McKinley—not yet a U.S. president—had just won the Republican presidential nomination, the New York Times reports. But Alaska Natives had long called it Denali (which means “the great one” or “the high one”) and revered it in the creation story of Koyukon Athabascans, who have lived in Alaska long before the U.S. existed. For decades, Alaska has filed a bill every year to change the peak’s name to Denali and saw the move blocked by legislators in Ohio, McKinley’s home state. Ohio officials haven’t yet said whether they’ll try to block the name change, the AP reports.
Partying on the Appalachian Trail Raises Ire
When Jackson Spencer set out to tackle the Appalachian Trail, he anticipated the solitude that only wilderness can bring—not a rolling, monthslong frat party. Shelters where he thought he could catch a good night’s sleep while listening to the sounds of nature were instead filled with trash, graffiti, and people who seemed more interested in partying all night, says Spencer, who finished the entire trail last month in just 99 days. “I wanted the solitude. I wanted to experience nature,“ he says. “I like to drink and to have a good time, but I didn’t want that to follow me there.“ Spencer, or “Mission” as he is known to fellow thru-hikers, confronted what officials say is an ugly side effect of the increasing traffic on the Georgia-to-Maine footpath every year: More people than ever causing problems.
At Maine’s Baxter State Park, home to the trail’s final summit on Mount Katahdin, officials say thru-hikers are flouting park rules by openly using drugs and drinking alcohol, camping where they aren’t supposed to, and trying to pass their pets off as service dogs. Hundreds of miles away, misbehaving hikers contributed to a small Pennsylvania community’s recent decision to shutter sleeping quarters it had offered for decades. With last year’s release of the movie “Wild,“ about a woman’s journey on the Pacific Crest Trail, the number of people on the Appalachian Trail has exploded. But many hikers say the concerns are being overblown. “There is always a bad apple or two, but these are people that spend four to six months for a year on the trail,“ says an ultramarathoner from Colorado. “I can’t imagine them wanting to do things that would violate the wilderness.“
You Watched My Kid Die. Can We Do Something About Guns?
Early last Wednesday, we watched in horror as a gunman turned a mundane local news report into the live-television murders of reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward. “In recent years we have witnessed similar tragedies unfold on TV,“ writes Parker’s father, Andy Parker, today in a Washington Post op-ed: “The shooting of a congresswoman in Arizona, the massacre of schoolchildren in Connecticut and of churchgoers in South Carolina. We have to ask ourselves: What do we need to do to stop this insanity?“ For Parker, who has been vocal about gun control in the wake of his daughter’s murder, “the answer is: ‘Whatever it takes.‘“ He writes, “I plan to devote all of my strength and resources to seeing that some good comes from this evil.“
“I am entering this arena with open eyes. I realize the magnitude of the force that opposes sensible and reasonable safeguards on the purchase of devices that have a single purpose: to kill.“ He proceeds to name names: Virginia legislators who repeatedly refuse to implement “sensible gun reforms, such as expanded background checks,“ and Parker’s own state senator, whose district includes Virginia Tech and who ought to be painfully aware of “how easy it is for dangerously mentally ill individuals to acquire guns in the commonwealth of Virginia.“ Parker knows that enhanced measures like the gun-violence restraining order California enacted after a shooting there aren’t fool-proof, and may not have saved his daughter. But he recalls his last weekend with her, spent, as they often did, kayaking, as well as their mantra when faced with rapids: “Never stop paddling. You just have to paddle through.“ Click for Parker’s full column.
China, Russia Comparing Hacks to Flush Out U.S. Spies
The “high-level snooping” foreign spy agencies have been carrying out on US computer networks isn’t simply a matter of trolling for state secrets. It’s also a way to expose U.S. spies—as well as contractors who provide tech support—who can then be blackmailed and even recruited, the Los Angeles Times reports. And U.S. officials say those countries, especially China and Russia, have a sophisticated system to “aggressively” cross-index and aggregate hacked data, using everything from airline and medical records to social media accounts. The foreign agencies search for weaknesses (e.g., relationship, money, and health problems) that could make a U.S. intelligence agent vulnerable to exploitation. This multi-layered scrutiny can indicate “who is an intelligence officer, who travels where, when, who’s got financial difficulties, who’s got medical issues, [to] put together a common picture,“ the head U.S. counterintelligence official tells the Times.
This is a major reason why the Pentagon is poring over the Ashley Madison hack. “A foreign spy agency now has the ability to cross-check who has a security clearance, via the OPM breach, with who was cheating on their wife, via the Ashley Madison breach, and thus identify someone to target for blackmail,“ a cybersecurity expert says. Making it difficult to pin the hacks and data analysis on foreign states: Chinese and Russian officials recruit criminal hackers to steal the data, then farm out data analysis to private software companies to keep their own hands clean. For now, the National Counterintelligence and Security Center has a tip for vulnerable government workers: Use “extra precaution” if people “approach you in a friendly manner and seem to have a lot in common with you.“
ISIS Blows Up ‘Most Important’ Temple
The 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel was considered the most important temple in the ancient city of Palmyra, which is itself considered one of the world’s treasures, and it’s now believed to be rubble. Witnesses say ISIS militants, who seized the Syrian city in May, destroyed the temple with a massive explosion yesterday, reports the AP. “It is total destruction. The bricks and columns are on the ground,“ a Palmyra resident tells the AP. “It was an explosion the deaf would hear.“
The temple, consecrated in AD32 to the Semitic god Bel, was one of the best-preserved parts of the site and had intricate wall carvings, the BBC reports.
Trump says ‘no interest’ in buying Pope’s favorite soccer team
BUENOS AIRES SPAIN—U.S. presidential hopeful Donald Trump denied a newspaper report on Friday that he wanted to buy top-tier Argentine soccer club San Lorenzo, Pope Francis’ favorite team.
“Never even heard of the team - no interest!“ the real estate magnate and contender for the Republican presidential nomination, tweeted after the New York Post reported that Trump and an associate had sent a letter to San Lorenzo expressing interest in a deal.
Earlier in the day, the club’s vice president, Marcelo Tinelli, told Reuters in a text message that the story was “totally crazy” and that the team was not for sale.
Pope Francis grew up near San Lorenzo’s original stadium in Buenos Aires and has been a fan ever since.
San Lorenzo is one of the top five clubs in soccer-obsessed Argentina. Whether through soccer, the biggest sport in Latin America, or by other means, Trump might benefit from some connection with Latino voters in the United States.
He began his campaign in June by saying Mexico is sending criminals and rapists to live in the United States. The comment sparked anger from Hispanic civil rights groups and others.
Don’t Shoot the Test Score Messenger, WV
Five long years ago, West Virginia and more than 40 other states adopted the Common Core standards in reading and math, setting dramatically higher expectations for students in elementary and secondary schools. Now we’ve reached a critical milestone in this effort.
Mountain State parents just received for the first time their children’s scores on new tests aligned to the standards, and taxpayers got a look at results statewide. The news was sobering.
Only about a quarter of middle school children are on track in math, and less than half are proficient in reading. The results were even worse for high school students. Though the scores may come as a shock to many, let us explain why parents and taxpayers shouldn’t shoot the messenger.
First it’s important to remember why so many states started down this path in the first place. Under federal law, every state must test children every year in grades three through eight and once in high school to ensure they are making progress. That’s a good idea. Parents deserve to know if their kids are learning, and taxpayers are entitled to know if the money we spend on schools is being used wisely.
But it is left to states to define what it means to be “proficient” in math and reading. Unfortunately, most states, including West Virginia, set a very low bar. They “juked the stats.”
The result was a comforting illusion that most West Virginia children were on track to succeed in college, carve out satisfying careers, and stand on their own two feet. To put it plainly, it was a lie. Imagine being told year after year that you’re doing just fine, only to find out when you apply for college or a job, that you’re simply not as prepared as you need to be.
Such experiences were not isolated cases. Every year, 70 percent of West Virginia’s community college students must take “remedial” courses when they arrive on campus. Many of those students will leave without a degree, or any kind of credential. That’s a lousy way to start one’s life.
The most important step to fixing this problem is to stop lying to ourselves — and to parents — and ensure our children are ready for the next grade, and when they turn 18, for college or work. Several national studies, including analyses of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), show that just 35 to 40 percent of high school graduates leave our education system at the “college prepared” level.
Considering that 20 percent of our children don’t even make it to graduation day, that means that maybe a third of our kids nationally are getting to that college-ready mark. (Not coincidentally, about a third of young people today complete a four-year college degree.)
The Common Core should help to boost college readiness — and college completion — by significantly raising expectations, starting in kindergarten. But we shouldn’t be surprised that West Virginia found that far less than half of its students are “on track” for college. In fact, that’s what we should expect. Mountain State parents, in other words, are finally learning the truth.
This is a big shift, and a painful one, from the Lake Wobegon days, when, like in Garrison Keillor’s fictional town, all the children were above average. But parents and taxpayers should resist the siren song of those who want to use this moment of truth to attack the Common Core or the associated tests. They may not be perfect, but they are finally giving parents, educators, and taxpayers a much more honest assessment of how our children are doing — a standard that promises to end the lies and games with statistics. Virtually all kids aspire to go to college and prepare for a satisfying career. Now, at last, we know if they’re on track to do so.
~~ Michael J. Petrilli and Robert Pondiscio - President and Vice President, respectively, of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and fathers of school-aged children ~~
ACT Scores Show More Evidence of STEM Deficit in WV Student Learning
The common lament in West Virginia is that there are very few economic opportunities for young people. They are forced to leave the state because they cannot find a satisfactory job here.
There’s truth to that. West Virginia’s economic opportunities are limited. We have pockets of growth, but not enough of them.
However, there is another side of this problem which is less popular to talk about, but worthy of discussion and debate: Are our young people entering the workforce with the skills necessary for the jobs that are available.
Specifically, those are STEM-based skills—science, technology, engineering and math.
According to the National Science Foundation, “In the 21st century, scientific and technological innovations have become increasingly important as we face the benefits and challenges of both globalization and a knowledge-based economy. To succeed in this new information-based and highly technological society, students need to develop their capabilities in STEM to levels much beyond what was considered acceptable in the past.”
However, the latest ACT scores of largely college-bound West Virginia students show serious deficits in their STEM knowledge.
First, it’s important to note that ACT scores in math and science across the country are poor. Just 42 percent of 2015 high school graduates who took the ACT met the benchmark for college readiness in math, while only 38 percent made the grade in science.
West Virginia scores are even lower. Just one in three (34 percent) members of the 2015 graduating class who took the ACT qualified as having college-ready skills in either math or science.
The ACT scores come on the heels of the first Smarter Balanced standardized tests results in West Virginia. Just 25 percent of eighth graders, 18 percent of ninth graders, 15 percent of tenth graders and 20 percent of eleventh graders scored at the “proficient” level.
There is no Smarter Balanced test for science, so West Virginia used the old Westest to test grades four, six and ten. All three grades scored lower than the previous year. Sixth graders and tenth graders all scored better the four previous years.
We don’t have to worry about the best and brightest. They are building their knowledge base to improve their chances for successful careers. But what about the majority of our students who are simply not learning what they need to know to compete in the new economy.
The evidence of the deficit is growing, and now West Virginia needs a sense of urgency to find solutions.
~~ Hoppy Kercheval ~~
Common Core Town Halls to Start Tuesday in West Virginia
West Virginia school officials this week will conduct the first of seven regional town hall meetings as part of their ongoing review of the state Department of Education’s embattled math and English standards.
The series of town hall meetings will start Tuesday in Morgantown at West Virginia University’s Mountainlair student union.
The standards have come under fire in recent years for being based on Common Core, which has prompted the department to launch a review to determine what, if any, changes need to be made.
The meetings will be used in conjunction with a review website that state Superintendent Michael Martirano has called a “statewide town hall.” On that website, each of West Virginia’s 900 math and English standards can be read and commented on.
By making each standard available for review and comment, department officials hope problems with individual standards, if they exist, can be identified.
The need for such a review was prompted by recent legislative attempts to repeal the standards over their ties to Common Core, which is a set of grade-level expectations in math and English that were created to make sure public school students across the country get the same basic education.
Developed in 2009 by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the standards were adopted in 2010 by the West Virginia Board of Education. They were renamed the Next Generation Content Standards and Objectives.
State Senate and House Republicans, who claim Common Core is being used by the federal government to take over local schools, have tried to repeal the standards, but their attempts were thwarted when the principle bill failed to pass a conference committee on the last day of the 2015 session.
The department hopes their review will restore confidence in the standards and quell future legislative intervention.
The review’s public commenting period will be open until Sept. 30, after which responses will be analyzed before being turned over to committees that will recommend a course of action to the school board.
West Virginia University researchers are helping with the review and will analyze all public feedback.
In addition to Tuesday’s meeting in Morgantown, there are meetings scheduled to take place in Huntington on Thursday, South Charleston on Sept. 10, Athens on Sept. 17, Mt. Gay on Sept. 20, Wheeling on Sept. 22 and Shepherdstown on Sept. 29. All meetings will start at 6:30 p.m., except for those in Athens and Mt. Gay, which will start at 5:30 p.m.
Each meeting will last 90 minutes and will open with a brief informational session. The remaining time will be dedicated to answering questions submitted by those in attendance. Questions must be submitted in writing at the start of the meeting.
Department of Education spokeswoman Kristin Anderson said officials will do their best to answer all questions at the meetings. Should time run out, all questions will be answered and posted on the review website.
She also said all feedback gathered at the meetings will be given to the review committees for consideration.
For those who cannot attend a town hall meeting, comments may be submitted on the review website, which can be accessed by going to www.wvacademicspotlight.statestandards.org.
Common Core was initially adopted by 46 states. Since then, at least 12 states have attempted to repeal the standards. Only three states have withdrawn.
~~ Samuel Speciale ~~
West Virginia News
Ruptured line cause of oil spill in Ritchie County creek
HARRISVILLE, WV - The Department of Environmental Protection says a ruptured oil gathering line caused a spill into a creek in Ritchie County.
Department spokeswoman Kelley Gillenwater says a cleanup could take several weeks.
Gillenwater says about 1,200 barrels of oil leaked from the line owned by West Virginia Oil Gathering on Thursday. Officials haven’t determined how much oil went into the creek.
She says the creek was dammed to contain the spill and the line was shut down.
Gillenwater says officials don’t know how long the line had been leaking.
Authorities investigate fire at former Fort Gay school
FORT GAY, WV - The State Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating a fire that damaged a former school in Fort Gay.
The Fort Gay Fire Department tells multiple media outlets that the fire occurred on Saturday at a building that formerly was Fort Gay High School and then Fort Gay Middle School.
The fire department says the fire began on the building’s first floor and then spread to the second floor.
The cause of the fire hasn’t been determined.
Ex-jail guard receives probation for having sex with inmate
HUNTINGTON, WV - A former correctional officer who pleaded guilty to having sex with an inmate will spend three years on probation.
The 33-year-old Jason M. McComas of Lesage also must register as a sex offender for 10 years.
McComas had pleaded guilty in April to imposition of a sexual act upon an incarcerated person. He recently was sentenced in Cabell County Circuit Court. Judge Paul T. Farrell suspended a one- to five-year prison sentence.
McComas was charged with having sex with a female inmate at the Western Regional Jail on March 24, 2013, while working at the jail as a correctional officer.
Did You Know?
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Monday:
RAZOR-LINED BORDER CAN’T STOP MIGRANTS FROM EU’S FIELD OF DREAMS
Over the past year Hungary has become the most popular back door for Arabs, Asians and Africans to reach the heart of the European Union without facing further passport or visa checks.
`OLIVER SACKS HUMANIZES ILLNESS’
That’s how a Nobel-winning chemist described Dr. Sacks, whose books like “The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat” compassionately portrayed people with severe and sometimes bizarre neurological conditions. Sacks died Sunday at 82.
WHERE POPE FRANCIS HAS NEVER SET FOOT
When the pontiff arrives at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington in a few weeks, it will mark the first time in his life that he’s visited the U.S.
WHAT TRUMP’S MASS DEPORTATION PLAN CALLS TO MIND
During the Great Depression, counties and cities in the American Southwest and Midwest forced Mexican immigrants and their families to leave the U.S. over concerns they were taking jobs away from whites despite their legal right to stay.
ISLAMIC STATE MILITANTS IN SYRIA SEVERELY DAMAGE THE BEL TEMPLE
The 2,000-year-old temple was part of the remains of the ancient caravan city of Palmyra, seized by IS fighters in May.
MOUNT MCKINLEY GETS A NEW NAME
By renaming the peak Denali, an Athabascan word meaning “the high one,“ President Barak Obama is making a major symbolic gesture to Alaska Natives on the eve of his historic visit to Alaska.
WHO HAS A LENGTHY CRIMINAL RECORD
The man charged with capital murder in the fatal shooting of a suburban Houston sheriff’s deputy has a record that includes resisting arrest and disorderly conduct with a firearm.
COMMUNITY REMEMBERS SLAIN TELEVISION REPORTER AND CAMERAMAN
About 500 people attended a ceremony for Alison Parker and Adam Ward, who were shot and killed while working last week.
MILEY CYRUS PROMISES MANY COSTUME CHANGES AS HOST OF MTV’S VIDEO MUSIC AWARDS
In her first incarnation, she strutted on the arrivals carpet in barely there silver straps, shaking a long, rock goddess ponytail.
TOKYO WINS LITTLE LEAGUE TITLE
The players from Japan were down eight runs in the first inning, but the Kitasua Little League pounded out 22 hits in an 18-11 comeback victory.
One College Gets Rid of Textbooks for Good
Lugging around big, heavy textbooks you’ll get next to nothing back on at the end of the semester has become a thing of the past at one Maryland institution of higher learning. The University of Maryland University College says it’s getting rid of textbooks for good this fall, directing undergraduates to free online resources instead, the AP reports; the move should save students thousands. As for grad students, don’t ditch those SwissGear sacks yet: Your textbook dump won’t come until the fall of 2016.
Neglected Horses’ Hooves Were 3 Feet Long: Rescuers
A concerned call about the welfare of someone’s pet pigeons led to a disturbing discovery in a Maryland stable: three horses in such a severe state of neglect that a local rescue group was absolutely horrified. “Of the over 2,170 horses DEFHR has rescued in its 26-year history, these are the worst, most extreme cases of hoof neglect the organization has ever seen,“ Days End Farm Horse Rescue says in a press release. The horses were found last week after a Good Samaritan alerted the Humane Society of Washington County, and the neglect was evident immediately, WUSA 9 reports. The gaunt animals, who officials believe hadn’t received proper medical care in at least 15 years, “could barely move.“
Their tangled hooves were more than 3 feet long—the group put a picture up on its Facebook page—while their stall was filled with piles of manure reaching as high as 4 feet. One of the horses had to be euthanized on the spot, while the two others had to be sedated so their hooves could be trimmed to allow them to be transported to DEFHR. As officials continue to investigate the situation to see if animal cruelty charges will be brought, the horses’ condition is reported as “guarded,“ per the station. They’re due for a further hoof trim and shaping and X-rays, and the organization is determined to do whatever it can to nurse the horses back to health, despite costs that could reach close to $2,400 a month per horse.
Baseball Fan Killed in Fall From Upper Deck
Tragedy in Atlanta tonight as a baseball fan fell from the upper deck during the Braves-Yankees game and was killed, reports 11 Alive. The man, believed to be in his 60s, fell from the 400 level about 40 feet and landed on concrete on the stadium’s first level, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It happened in the seventh inning as fans were booing Alex Rodriguez while he walked to the plate, and a witness thinks he knows what happened: “When they called A-Rod coming to bat, he got all excited, and his momentum took him over (the railing),“ the man tells the newspaper. Police are investigating.
Teacher Late 111 Times Blames Breakfast
An elementary school teacher who was allowed to keep his job despite being late for work 111 times in two years says that breakfast is to blame for his tardiness. “I have a bad habit of eating breakfast in the morning, and I lost track of time,“ 15-year veteran teacher Arnold Anderson tells the AP. In a decision filed August 19, an arbitrator in New Jersey rejected an attempt by the Roosevelt Elementary School in New Brunswick to fire Anderson from his $90,000-a-year job, saying he was entitled to progressive discipline. But the arbitrator also criticized Anderson’s claim that the quality of his teaching outweighed his tardiness.
Anderson was late 46 times in the most recent school year through March 20 and 65 times in the previous school year, the arbitrator said. Anderson said he was one to two minutes late to school “at the most” but was prepared and was never late for class. “I have to cut out eating breakfast at home,“ he says. Anderson remains suspended without pay until January 01, 2016.
U.S. Education Dept. Bars States from Offering Alternative Tests to Most Students With Disabiliy
A new rule issued by the U.S. Education Department requires all states to stop offering alternative standards and aligned standardized tests to nearly all students with disabilities after the 2015-16 school year.
As published in the Federal Rule, the rule is called “Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged; Assistance to States for the Education of Children With Disabilities,” and it requires states to give the same assessments to students without disabilities as to the vast majority of those with disabilities under the premise that nearly all students can “make academic progress when provided with challenging instruction and appropriate supports.”
Effective September 21, 2015, the official rule summary says:
The Secretary amends the regulations governing title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended (ESEA) (the “Title I regulations”), to no longer authorize a State to define modified academic achievement standards and develop alternate assessments based on those modified academic achievement standards for eligible students with disabilities. In order to make conforming changes to ensure coordinated administration of programs under title I of the ESEA and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Secretary is also amending the regulations for Part B of the IDEA. Note: Nothing in these regulations changes the ability of States to develop and administer alternate assessments based on alternate academic achievement standards for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities or alternate assessments based on grade-level academic achievement standards for other eligible students with disabilities in accordance with the ESEA and the IDEA, or changes the authority of IEP teams to select among these alternate assessments for eligible students.
The new rule is an attempt to get away from what is known as the “2 percent rule,” in which states were allowed to develop alternate tests aligned to modified academic standards for some students with disabilities and count as proficient scores up to 2 percent of students using the alternate tests for accountability purposes.
The Obama administration has been pushing this idea for years, saying that research shows that students with all but the most severe disabilities can meet regular academic standards with the proper supports and that schools do them a disservice by permitting them to learn under lesser standards and tests.
The Education Department Web site, in explaining the new rule, also says that new assessments — meaning new Common Core-aligned exams — are said to be designed for most students with disabilities as well, a contention that critics say isn’t true. New Common Core tests were given in a majority of the states this past spring and there were problems cited by educators with implementation and design. A number of states have dropped Core-aligned exams that were created by two multi-state consortia with some $360 million in federal funding.
The Federal Register Web site says:
In addition, nearly all States have developed new college- and career-ready standards and new assessments aligned with those standards. These new assessments have been designed to facilitate the valid, reliable, and fair assessment of most students, including students with disabilities who previously took an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards. For these reasons, we believe that the removal of the authority for States to define modified academic achievement standards and to administer assessments based on those standards is necessary to ensure that students with disabilities are held to the same high standards as their nondisabled peers, and that they benefit from high expectations, access to the general education curriculum based on a State’s academic content standards, and instruction that will prepare them for success in college and careers.
Teachers and parents, on the other hand, are concerned that schools and students don’t get proper supports to help struggling students with disabilities. As one teacher writing under the name “jean” on the Web site “disabilityscoop” wrote:
August 24, 2015 at 6:08 PM
This idea is lovely and important. It is important that we set high goals for all students. It is important that we not ignore the needs of students with learning disabilities because they don’t “count against” us. However, this is not a teacher problem. This is a resource problem and a timeline problem. I am a reading teacher who serves about 50% kids with IEPs. These students need resources and they need extra time. Yes, many have the potential to read successfully, but they might need 6 extra years to get there. And some will never get there, but they might get a little closer. In the meantime, we make them take these tests that tell them “you’re in the bottom 10% . . . Again.” This makes them hate school and the very process that’s trying to change what they’ve learned. I don’t need a test to tell me which kids need help in reading, and I’m a very good diagnostician. I know exactly what level my students read at and what their barriers are. I don’t always have all the tools I need, but I can usually make pretty good progress. But I need more time. Where will additional resources come from? This is very frustrating.
Congress is now debating whether to and how to rewrite the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known as No Child Left Behind in its current form, and it is widely expected that if a bill is passed that federal involvement in local education decisions will be reduced.
The rule was first proposed in 2013 by the Obama administration, and the public was permitted to offer comments. The department said it received 156 comments that expressed varying opinions.
Some, the Federal Register Web site says, “stated that general assessments that are accessible for all students are in the best interest of students with disabilities and provide better information about the achievement of those students for parents, educators, and the public,” and several “commenters pointed to developments in the field of assessment that are contributing to general assessments that are accessible for the vast majority of students.”
Others, the Web site said, discussed how alternative assessments “were helpful in meeting the needs of students with disabilities. One commenter stated that the assessments improved instruction and student achievement while providing students with access to the general curriculum. A representative from a State educational agency (SEA) commented that five years of research and development went into developing their State’s alternate assessments, which are based on grade-level content, are aligned with college- and career-ready standards, and do not compromise academic rigor and expectations. The SEA representative stated that the existing regulations provide the most flexibility for States and that, without access to the State’s alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards, students who would otherwise take the alternate assessments would no longer have the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.”
The response from the department:
We recognize that some States expended considerable resources to develop alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards. As one commenter suggests, these States’ research and development efforts generated valuable information on how best to teach and assess students with disabilities. States may still use this information to prepare and support students to take the new general assessments aligned with college- and career-ready standards that States have developed since the Department issued the regulations in April 2007.
For those who are interested in the department’s entire explanation of the comments it received and its responses, here it is. It is long, but worth your time because it explains the Obama administration’s thinking about testing students with disabilities and underscores concerns that many parents and teachers have about the new rule.
From the Federal Register Web site:
In response to our invitation in the NPRM, 156 parties submitted comments. We group major issues according to subject. In some cases, comments addressed issues beyond the scope of the proposed regulations. Although we appreciate commenters’ concerns for broader issues affecting the education of students with disabilities, because those comments are beyond the scope of this regulatory action, we do not discuss them here. Generally, we do not address technical and other minor revisions.
Analysis of Comments and Changes: An analysis of the comments and changes in the regulations since publication of the NPRM follows.
Comments: Several commenters stated that general assessments that are accessible for all students are in the best interest of students with disabilities and provide better information about the achievement of those students for parents, educators, and the public. Several commenters pointed to developments in the field of assessment that are contributing to general assessments that are accessible for the vast majority of students. The commenters noted that using principles of “universal design for learning” and considering accessibility issues when designing assessments have resulted in more accessible general assessments and have eliminated the need for alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards. A few commenters urged the Department to promote the use of universal design for learning in developing assessments, as well as to support the development of accessible assessments and accommodations for students with disabilities.
Discussion: Nearly all States have developed and are administering new high-quality general assessments that are valid and reliable and measure students with disabilities’ knowledge and skills against college- and career-ready standards. Including students with disabilities in more accessible general assessments aligned to college- and career-ready standards promotes high expectations for students with disabilities, ensures that they will have access to grade-level content, and supports high-quality instruction designed to enable students with disabilities to be involved in, and make progress in, the general education curriculum — that is, the same curriculum as for nondisabled students.
In response to those commenters who urged the Department to support the adoption of universal design principles for student assessments, we note that the Department has a history of supporting and promoting universal design for learning, assessments that are accessible for all students, and appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities. Most recently, we included “universal design for learning” in defining “high-quality assessments” required under the Race to the Top programs and the ESEA flexibility initiative.  We have also focused funding on improving the accessibility of assessments through the General Supervision Enhancement Grants (GSEG) and Enhanced Assessment Grants (EAG) programs.
Comments: Some commenters from States that administered alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards discussed how these assessments were helpful in meeting the needs of students with disabilities. One commenter stated that the assessments improved instruction and student achievement while providing students with access to the general curriculum. A representative from a State educational agency (SEA) commented that five years of research and development went into developing their State’s alternate assessments, which are based on grade-level content, are aligned with college- and career-ready standards, and do not compromise academic rigor and expectations. The SEA representative stated that the existing regulations provide the most flexibility for States and that, without access to the State’s alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards, students who would otherwise take the alternate assessments would no longer have the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.
Discussion: We recognize that some States expended considerable resources to develop alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards. As one commenter suggests, these States’ research and development efforts generated valuable information on how best to teach and assess students with disabilities. States may still use this information to prepare and support students to take the new general assessments aligned with college- and career-ready standards that States have developed since the Department issued the regulations in April 2007. Those assessments are more accessible to students with disabilities than those in place at the time States began developing alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards. The new general assessments will facilitate the valid, reliable, and fair assessment of most students with disabilities, including those for whom alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards were intended. Moreover, we know the key to successful achievement of students with disabilities begins with appropriate instruction, services, and supports. More than six years of research spurred by the opportunity that States had to research, develop, and administer alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards have dramatically increased the knowledge base about students who are struggling in school. States that received funding from the Department through the GSEG and EAG programs to develop alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards focused on several topics, including the characteristics of students who were participating in such assessments, barriers to these students’ learning and performance, and approaches to making assessments more accessible. For example, research in several States found that some students deemed eligible for taking alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards may not have had an opportunity to learn grade-level content, and that more effort was needed to support teachers in ensuring students have meaningful opportunities to learn grade-level content. Other research focused on the appropriateness of test items and identified various ways to improve the accessibility of test items, such as adjusting format characteristics or content, or carefully examining the difficulty of the test items and making items more accessible and understandable (e.g., reducing unimportant or extraneous details) while still measuring grade-level content.  Therefore, we believe that alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards are no longer needed and, with high-quality instruction and appropriate accommodations, students with disabilities who took an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards will be able to demonstrate their knowledge and skills by participating in the new general assessments.
Comments: A parent whose child participated in an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards expressed concern that, without the assessment, the child would not be able to graduate with a high school diploma. Another commenter asked that States be allowed to continue to administer alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards for State purposes, such as promotion decisions and graduation requirements. One commenter stated that the assessments allowed students with disabilities to be successful and meet State exit exam requirements.
Discussion: Under the final regulations, a State may no longer define modified academic achievement standards and administer alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards to meet ESEA requirements. Accordingly, these regulations do not affect State promotion decisions and graduation requirements because the Federal government does not set promotion or graduation standards for any students, including students with disabilities. Rather, States, and, in some cases, local educational agencies (LEAs), establish requirements for high school graduation and promotion.
However, we note that, regardless of State or local promotion or graduation requirements for a regular high school diploma, in order to ensure a free appropriate public education (FAPE) is made available to students with disabilities under the IDEA, individualized education programs (IEPs), including IEP goals, must be aligned with the State’s academic content standards, and contain the content required by the IDEA to enable students with disabilities to be involved in, and make progress in, the general education curriculum based on the State’s academic content standards. Therefore, in order to ensure that a State makes FAPE available to all eligible students with disabilities,  promotion or graduation requirements for such students may not be lowered if doing so means including goals, special education and related services, and supplementary aids and services and other supports in a student’s IEP that are not designed to enable the student to be involved in, and make progress in, the general education curriculum based on the State’s academic content standards. The general education curriculum is the curriculum that is applicable to all children and is based on the State’s academic content standards that apply to all children within the State.
Comments: Several commenters who expressed support for the proposed regulations noted that they are aligned with the requirements in several current Department programs, such as the requirement that assessments funded under the Race to the Top Assessment (RTTA) program be accessible to all students, including students with disabilities eligible to participate in an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards; the requirement that State recipients of Race to the Top grants phase out alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards; and the requirement that SEAs phase out alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards as a condition of receiving ESEA flexibility.
One commenter who opposed the proposed regulations expressed an understanding that they are based on the premise that States have adopted Common Core State Standards, joined an RTTA consortium, or received waivers under ESEA flexibility. The commenter stated that aligning the proposed regulations with these initiatives would set policy for all States based on those participating in voluntary Department initiatives and would send a message to States not participating in these initiatives that they are disadvantaged for not doing so. Another commenter expressed concern that the proposed regulations would result in permanent regulatory changes predicated on temporary ESEA flexibility waivers.
Discussion: The purpose of the these regulatory changes is to promote high expectations for students with disabilities by encouraging teaching and learning to high academic achievement standards for the grade in which a student is enrolled, measured by a State’s general assessments. These regulations are driven by research and advances in the development of general assessments aligned with college- and career-ready standards that are more accessible to students with disabilities than those in place at the time States began developing alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards. The purpose of the regulations is not, as suggested by some commenters, to align them with voluntary Department initiatives. To clarify, State recipients of Race to the Top grants were not required to phase out alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards as a condition of the grants. States approved for ESEA flexibility did agree to phase out those assessments by school year 2014-2015; however, these final regulations are not predicated on that agreement. Rather, the ESEA flexibility requirement is consistent with the purpose of the regulations to promote high expectations for students with disabilities by encouraging teaching and learning to high academic achievement standards for the grade in which a student is enrolled measured by a State’s general assessments. Therefore, we disagree with the commenters who claimed that the regulations would set policy based on the Department’s voluntary initiatives. Likewise, the regulations do not place any State at a disadvantage as a result of its decision not to participate in voluntary Department initiatives.
Comments: One commenter expressed concern that the assessments being developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), although based on universal design features to make them more accessible, will not eliminate the need for alternate assessments.
Discussion: The assessments being developed by States based on college- and career-ready standards, including those developed by PARCC and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, do not eliminate the authority or need for States to administer alternate assessments based on alternate academic achievement standards for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. States may also continue to administer alternate assessments based on grade-level academic achievement standards, consistent with 34 CFR 200.6(a)(2)(ii)(A). We note that the Department is supporting, through the GSEG program, the development of alternate assessments based on alternate academic achievement standards that will serve as companion assessments to the general assessments that States are developing and implementing.
Comments: One commenter questioned the Department’s authority to amend the Title I regulations in light of the negotiated rulemaking requirements in section 1901(b) of the ESEA, including the requirement that the rulemaking process be conducted in a timely manner to ensure that final regulations are issued by the Secretary not later than one year after the date of enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). Similarly, the commenter questioned whether the proposed regulations meet the requirement in section 1908 of the ESEA that the Secretary issue regulations for sections 1111 and 1116 of the ESEA not later than six months after the date of enactment of NCLB.
Discussion: The statutory requirements for negotiated rulemaking in section 1901(b) of the ESEA apply to title I standards and assessment regulations required to be implemented within one year of enactment of NCLB, not to subsequent regulatory amendments such as those included in these regulations. Similarly, with respect to the timeline for issuing regulations implementing title I, the requirements in sections 1901 and 1908 of the ESEA apply only to the issuance of initial regulations following enactment of NCLB, not to subsequent amendments such as these final regulations.
Assessing Students With Disabilities Based on a State’s Academic Achievement Standards
Comments: We received many comments on the standards to which students with disabilities should be held. Several commenters stated that all students should be held and taught to the same standards and that modified academic achievement standards and alternate assessments based on those standards inappropriately lower expectations for students with disabilities and result in instruction that is less challenging than the instruction provided to their nondisabled peers. Other commenters stated that students with disabilities have the ability to learn grade-level content and can achieve at the same levels as their nondisabled peers when provided with appropriate instruction, services, and supports. One commenter stated that, when students receive instruction based on modified academic achievement standards, a negative cycle begins in which the students never learn what they need to succeed. One commenter stated that a State’s standards and assessments should be designed to be appropriate for the vast majority of students with disabilities, with the exception of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. Other commenters stated that a large number of students with disabilities taking alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards creates a separate education system for students with disabilities and focuses on students’ limitations, rather than strengths.
On the other hand, some commenters stated that holding students with disabilities to the same standards as nondisabled students is unfair because students who qualify for special education services have a disability that affects their academic functioning. They noted that what may be a high standard for one student may not necessarily be the same for another student, and that students with disabilities should take assessments that reflect realistic expectations for them.
Discussion: The importance of holding all students, including students with disabilities, to high standards cannot be over-emphasized. Low expectations can lead to students with disabilities receiving less challenging instruction that reflects below grade-level achievement standards, and thereby not learning what they need to succeed at the grade in which they are enrolled.
Although the Department agrees that some students may have a disability that affects their academic functioning, we disagree that students with disabilities, except for those with the most significant cognitive disabilities, should be held to different academic achievement standards than their nondisabled peers. Research demonstrates that low-achieving students with disabilities who struggle in reading  and low-achieving students with disabilities who struggle in mathematics  can successfully learn grade-level content when they have access to high-quality instruction. The inclusion of students with disabilities in the new, more accessible general assessments will promote high expectations for students with disabilities, which research demonstrates is associated with improved educational outcomes.  Therefore, we disagree with commenters’ statements that it is unfair to hold students with disabilities, other than those with the most significant cognitive disabilities, to the same academic achievement standards as their nondisabled peers.
Comments: Many commenters, mostly teachers and parents, stated that modified academic achievement standards and assessments based on those standards meet the needs of certain students with disabilities for whom the general assessment is too difficult. The commenters stated that the general assessment does not provide meaningful data on these students and that alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards allow students to demonstrate their knowledge, show progress, and experience success.
Several commenters expressed concern about providing assessments to students when they know the students will struggle to complete the general assessment because, without more supports, it would be too challenging for the students. The commenters expressed concern that this experience would affect their self-esteem and result in higher drop-out rates for students with disabilities.
Discussion: Since the regulations permitting States to define modified academic achievement standards and develop alternate assessments based on those standards were promulgated in 2007, there has been significant research and progress in developing assessments that are appropriate and accessible for most students, including students with disabilities for whom alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards were intended. As discussed in the NPRM, the application of universal design principles, new technologies, and new research on accommodations has led to the development of general assessments that are not only more accessible to students with disabilities, but also improve the validity of their scores. As a number of commenters noted, the developers of the new generation of assessments considered the needs of students with disabilities to ensure that the assessments are designed to allow those students to demonstrate their knowledge. 
The Department shares the goal that students with disabilities experience success. Removing the authority for modified academic achievement standards and an alternate assessment based on those standards furthers this goal because students with disabilities who are assessed based on grade-level academic achievement standards will receive instruction aligned with such an assessment.
Comments: Some commenters stated that it is unfair for students with disabilities to have modifications in instruction during the school year and then be assessed with a test that is not modified.
Discussion: For purposes of this response, we assume “modifications in instruction” means accommodations authorized under the IDEA. While the IDEA does authorize adaptations in the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction (34 CFR 300.39(b)(3)), it also requires appropriate accommodations during testing (34 CFR 300.160(a) and 300.320(a)(6)(i)). These accommodations, as agreed upon by a child’s IEP team, which includes the child’s parents along with school officials, may include, among other things, small group testing, frequent breaks, a separate or alternate location, a specified area or seating, and adaptive and specialized equipment or furniture. As permitted under the IDEA and determined appropriate by a student’s IEP team, the Department believes that students with disabilities who take a general assessment based on a State’s challenging academic achievement standards should be provided with accommodations during the assessment that are similar to the IEP accommodations they receive for instructional purposes and for other academic tests or assessments so that the students can be involved in, and make progress in, the general education curriculum. These regulations will not prevent the provision of needed supports to students with disabilities during general assessments or for other instructional purposes.
Comments: One commenter expressed support for the proposed regulations, stating that alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards do not take into account a student’s disability and the content of the instruction he or she is provided, and do not provide meaningful information to school districts or accurately measure the student’s progress. However, the commenter maintained that the new general assessments, although more accessible, may be too difficult for students who currently participate in an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards. Instead, the commenter recommended allowing States to base participation in the general assessment on a student’s instructional level, rather than chronological age, with a cap of counting no more than two percent of proficient scores for ESEA accountability purposes.
Discussion: The commenter’s recommendation to allow States to base participation in the general assessment on a student’s instructional level is often referred to as “out-of-level” or “off-grade level” testing and generally refers to the practice of assessing a student enrolled in one grade using a measure that was developed for students in a lower grade. By definition, an out-of-level assessment cannot meet the requirements of a grade-level assessment because it does not measure mastery of grade-level content or academic achievement standards. In addition, out-of-level testing is often associated with lower expectations for students with disabilities, tracking such students into lower-level curricula with limited opportunities to succeed in the general education curriculum.
The Department disagrees with the commenter’s statement that the new general assessments may be too difficult for students who currently participate in an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards. We learned through States that received funding from the Department through the GSEG and EAG programs that some students with disabilities who might be candidates for an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards may not have had an opportunity to learn grade-level content, and more effort was needed to support teachers in ensuring students have meaningful opportunities to learn grade-level content. Six of the projects found that students who might be candidates for an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards had difficulty using printed materials in certain formats or demonstrated other specific challenges related to some components of reading. Other projects focused on the appropriateness of test items and identified various ways to improve the accessibility of test items, while still measuring grade-level content. 
Comments: Some commenters stated that preparing students to be “college ready” should not be a goal for all public school students.
Discussion: We understand that not all students will enter a four-year college upon graduating from high school. However, we strongly believe that public schools should prepare all children to be ready for college or the workforce. According to research from the American Diploma Project, nearly two-thirds of new jobs require some form of postsecondary education.  Therefore, in order to compete in the 21st century, regardless of whether a student has a disability, some form of postsecondary training or education is increasingly important for the student to become a productive and contributing adult.
Responsibilities of IEP Teams and Students’ Participation in Assessments
Comments: Many commenters expressed concern that no longer permitting the use of alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards and requiring students to take the general State assessments conflict with IDEA requirements. The commenters argued that the IDEA requires a student’s education to be individualized in an IEP and not standardized with an assessment designed for the general student population. A few commenters stated that a student’s IEP team is responsible for making educational decisions for the student and should decide whether an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards or a new more accessible general assessment is the more appropriate assessment for the student.
Discussion: The commenters are correct that the IDEA assigns the IEP team the responsibility for determining how a student with a disability participates in a State or district-wide assessment, including assessments required under title I of the ESEA (34 CFR 300.320(a)(6) and 300.160(a)). This IEP team responsibility is essential, given the importance of including all children with disabilities in a State’s accountability system. These final regulations do not contravene this IEP team responsibility.
The IDEA, Part B regulations at 34 CFR 300.320(a)(6) address what each student’s IEP must contain regarding participation in State and district-wide assessments. Each child’s IEP must include, among other things: (1) A statement of any individual appropriate accommodations that are necessary to measure the academic achievement and functional performance of the child on State and district-wide assessments and (2) if the IEP team determines that a student with a disability must take an alternate assessment, a statement of why the child cannot participate in the regular assessment, and why the particular alternate assessment selected is appropriate for the child.
Under these final regulations, to ensure that students with disabilities are appropriately included in assessments conducted under title I, an IEP team will continue to have the authority and responsibility to determine whether students with disabilities should take the regular assessment with or without appropriate accommodations, an alternate assessment based on grade-level academic achievement standards, if any, or, for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, an alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards.
Although an IEP team determines how a student with a disability participates in general State and district-wide assessments, States are responsible for adopting general and alternate assessments, consistent with applicable Title I regulations. Accordingly, IEP teams will continue to determine which assessment a student with a disability will take in accordance with 34 CFR 300.320(a)(6), and the final regulations in 34 CFR 300.160(c) and 200.6(a)(2). However, under these final regulations, an IEP team may no longer select an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards to assess students with disabilities under title I of the ESEA.
Comments: Many commenters opposed the proposed amendments because they oppose standardized tests for students with disabilities. Some commenters stated that standardized tests cannot measure the achievement and progress of a student with a disability, particularly a student who is far behind academically. The commenters offered several alternatives to standardized assessments for students with disabilities including assessments that are specialized and personalized for each student; assessments that are based on each student’s daily class work and cognitive level, rather than their age; assessments that use standards for passing that are developed by a student’s IEP team; and individualized assessments that measure growth. Other commenters suggested allowing States to use a number of assessments to measure achievement for students with disabilities, rather than a single general assessment. A few commenters recommended using measures other than assessments to document the achievement of students with disabilities such as data on classroom performance collected by teachers and a student’s progress toward meeting his or her IEP goals.
Finally, some commenters recommended that States, districts, and schools use measures other than performance on standardized assessments as evidence of success in educating students with disabilities. For example, commenters recommended using the number of students passing workforce certification tests, the number of students employed in a skilled job after high school, or the number of students who effectively use a college’s disability assistance center.
Discussion: The assessment and accountability provisions of title I require that all students, including students with disabilities, be included in Statewide standardized assessments. 20 U.S.C. 6311(b)(3)(C)(ix); 34 CFR 200.6. Section 612(a)(16)(A) of the IDEA and 34 CFR 300.160(a) also provide that all children with disabilities must be included in all general State and district-wide assessments, including assessments described under section 1111 of the ESEA, with appropriate accommodations and alternate assessments where necessary and as indicated in their respective IEPs. Parents and teachers have the right and need to know how much progress all students, including students with disabilities, are making each year toward college and career readiness. That means all students, including students with disabilities, need to take annual Statewide assessments. Accordingly, the commenters’ proposals of alternative methods to measure the achievement of students with disabilities are inconsistent with title I and IDEA.
Comments: Some commenters who supported the proposed regulations stated that not holding all students to the same standards has resulted in excusing districts from their responsibility to educate students with disabilities based on the general curriculum. For example, one parent whose child participated in an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards commented that the child received instruction that was not based on the general education curriculum, contrary to the requirements of the IDEA.
Discussion: Current IDEA regulations (34 CFR 300.320(a)(1)(i) and (4)(ii)) require that each child with a disability must receive instruction designed to enable the child to be involved in, and make progress in, the general education curriculum—i.e., the same curriculum as for nondisabled students. The importance of this requirement cannot be overemphasized. As the Department stated in the Analysis of Comments to the 2006 IDEA, Part B regulations, “[w]ith regard to the alignment of the IEP with the State’s content standards, § 300.320(a)(1)(i) clarifies that the general education curriculum means the same curriculum as all other children. Therefore, an IEP that focuses on ensuring that a child is involved in the general education curriculum will necessarily be aligned with the State’s content standards.” 71 FR 46540, 46662 (Aug. 14, 2006).
Under section 1111(b)(1)(B) of the ESEA, a State must apply its challenging academic content standards to all children in the State, including all children with disabilities. Section § 200.1(a)-(b) of the current title I regulations defines State academic content standards as grade-level standards. The Title I regulations permitting a State to define modified academic achievement standards and to administer alternate assessments based on those standards in assessing the academic progress of students with disabilities were not intended to change the requirement that those standards be based on challenging academic content standards. In fact, § 200.1(f)(2)(iii) of the current title I regulations provides that, if the IEPs of students assessed against modified academic achievement standards include goals for the subjects to be assessed, the IEPs of such students assessed based on modified academic achievement standards must include “goals based on the academic content standards for the grade in which a student is enrolled.” This provision has been removed because the authority to define modified academic achievement standards and administer alternate assessments based on those standards, has been removed. However, IEPs for all students with disabilities must continue to be aligned with a State’s academic content standards and include annual goals, special education and related services, and supplementary aids and services and other supports that are designed to enable the student to be involved in, and make progress in, the general education curriculum based on the State’s academic content standards.
As explained in the Senate Report accompanying the 2004 reauthorization of the IDEA, “[f]or most students with disabilities, many of their IEP goals would likely conform to State and district wide academic content standards and progress indicators consistent with standards based reform within education and the new requirements of NCLB. IEPs would also include other goals that the IEP Team deemed appropriate for the student, such as life skills, self-advocacy, social skills, and desired post-school activities. Moreover, since parents will receive individual student reports on their child with a disability’s achievement on assessments under NCLB, they will have additional information to evaluate how well their children are doing against grade-level standards.” S. Rep. No. 108-185, 105th Cong., 1st Sess. 29 (Nov. 3, 2003). Reading the IDEA and ESEA requirements together, it is incumbent upon States and school districts to ensure that the IEPs of students with disabilities who are being assessed against grade-level academic achievement standards include content and instruction that gives these students the opportunity to gain the knowledge and skills necessary for them to meet those challenging standards. We strongly urge States and school districts to provide IEP Teams with technical assistance on ways to accomplish this, consistent with the purposes of the IDEA and the ESEA. Technical assistance is available from the following resources: National Center on Educational Outcomes www.cehd.umn.edu/nceo/default.html and The Center on Standards and Assessments Implementation csai-online.org/.
Timeline To Discontinue Alternate Assessments Based on Modified Academic Achievement Standards
Comments: A number of commenters stated that eliminating the authority of a State to use alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards beginning in the 2014-2015 school year is premature. Some commenters stated that a more appropriate time to discontinue use of alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards would be after the 2014-2015 school year when many States would have completed their field tests and implemented new assessments aligned with college- and career-ready standards. One commenter referenced a report that stated that 10 to 15 percent of students with disabilities have disabilities that would preclude them from meeting new college- and career-ready standards. The commenter concluded that these estimates raise questions as to whether the new general assessments will be appropriate for all students with disabilities (with the exception of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who are eligible to take an alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards). The commenters asserted that a State should retain the authority to administer alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards until there is information about how adequately the new general assessments include students with disabilities who currently take an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards.
Another commenter raised concerns about phasing out alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards at the same time that States are implementing new general assessments. The commenter stated that, at such a time of change, more flexibility rather than less flexibility should be provided to States. One commenter stated that there are indications that implementation of the new assessments will be delayed and that these delays would negatively affect students with disabilities who currently take an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards.
Discussion: With respect to the commenters who stated that eliminating the authority of a State to use alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards beginning in the 2014-2015 school year is premature, we disagree. We continue to believe that eliminating the authority for alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards to assess the academic progress of students with disabilities under title I of the ESEA at the same time those students are included in new general assessments is in the best interest of the students. All States that had implemented alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards have now adopted college- and career-ready standards. These States are all administering general assessments aligned to college- and career-ready standards in 2014-2015. To the extent those are RTTA assessments, they will not be delayed. Moreover, the RTTA assessments were field tested in 2013-2014 and those field tests included students assessed with an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards. As a result, students with disabilities who previously participated in an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards are making the transition to new general assessments along with their peers and have had the same benefit as their peers of instruction designed to meet new college- and career-ready standards. Therefore, it is appropriate that students with disabilities be assessed in 2014-2015 with the new general assessments that are aligned with their instruction.
Discussion: When the proposed regulations were published on August 23, 2013 (78 FR 52467), we anticipated finalizing the regulations prior to the end of the 2013-2014 school year. Therefore, we proposed regulations to allow States that administered alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards during the 2013-2014 school year to continue to administer those assessments and to use the results for accountability purposes through the 2013-2014 school year. Given that the final regulations were not published prior to the end of the 2013-2014 school year, several of the proposed regulations are no longer necessary. We are, therefore, removing proposed regulations that refer to the conditions under which a State could continue to use modified academic achievement standards and to administer alternate assessments based on those standards until the end of the 2013-2014 school year.
We also are amending current Title I regulations and making conforming changes to current IDEA regulations to remove provisions related to alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards and references to “modified academic achievement standards.” We did not include these changes in the NPRM because these provisions were still necessary during the 2013-2014 transition year provided for in the proposed regulations. Now that the transition year has passed, there is no longer a need to retain references to “modified academic achievement standards” or alternate assessments aligned with those standards, except for the provisions regarding reporting on the number of students with disabilities taking alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards in years prior to 2015-2016. In assessing the academic progress of students with disabilities under title I of the ESEA, a State retains its authority to continue to administer alternate assessments based on grade-level academic achievement standards, consistent with 34 CFR 200.6(a)(2)(ii)(A) and revised 300.160(c)(1). Additionally, a State retains its authority to adopt alternate academic achievement standards, as permitted in 34 CFR 200.1(d), and to measure the achievement of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities against those standards, as permitted in 34 CFR 200.6(a)(2)(ii)(B) and 300.160(c)(2)(iii) (new 300.160(c)(2)(ii)). As described below, we are making changes to §§ 200.1, 200.6, 200.13, and 200.20 in the Title I regulations and § 300.160 in the IDEA regulations.
Changes: Changes to § 200.1: We are removing proposed paragraphs (e)(2) and (e)(4) (both of which refer to conditions under which a State could continue to administer alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards until the end of the 2013-2014 school year) and revising proposed paragraph (e)(1) (now paragraph (e)) to state that a State may not define modified academic achievement standards for any students with disabilities. We are removing as no longer necessary current paragraph (e)(2) (proposed redesignated paragraph (e)(3)), which sets out the criteria a State must establish for IEP teams to use to identify students with disabilities who were eligible to be assessed based on modified academic achievement standards. In addition, we are revising current paragraph (f) regarding State guidelines to remove all references to “modified academic achievement standards.” The requirements in current paragraph (f) applicable to alternate academic achievement standards remain unchanged and fully applicable to a State that has adopted such standards.
Changes to § 200.6: We are removing proposed paragraph (a)(3) so that a State may no longer measure the achievement of students with disabilities based on modified academic achievement standards, redesignating current paragraph (a)(4) as new paragraph (a)(3), and revising new paragraph (a)(3)(iv) (current paragraph (a)(4)(iv)) to require a State to report to the Secretary the number and percentage of children with disabilities, if any, participating in alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards in school years prior to 2015-2016.
Changes to current § 200.13: We are revising current paragraph (c) to remove references to “modified academic achievement standards,” references to the 2.0 percent cap on proficient and advanced scores of students taking alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards, and the Appendix.
The requirements in current paragraph (c) applicable to alternate academic achievement standards remain unchanged and fully applicable to a State that has adopted such standards.
Changes to current § 200.20: We are revising current paragraph (c)(3) to remove the reference to “modified academic achievement standards.” The requirements in current paragraph (c)(3) applicable to alternate academic achievement standards remain unchanged and fully applicable to a State that has adopted such standards. We also are removing current paragraph (g) (which describes a transition provision related to modified academic achievement standards) and redesignating current paragraph (h) as new paragraph (g).
Changes to current § 300.160: We are revising § 300.160 of the IDEA regulations, which addresses participation of students with disabilities in assessments, to make conforming changes with those made in the Title I regulations. We are removing current paragraph (c)(2)(ii), which authorizes alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards, as permitted in 34 CFR 200.1(e), in assessing the academic progress of students with disabilities under title I of the ESEA; and redesignating current paragraph (c)(2)(iii) as paragraph (c)(2)(ii). We are adding a new paragraph (c)(2)(iii) to make clear that, except as provided in paragraph (c)(2)(ii), a State’s alternate assessments, if any, must measure the achievement of children with disabilities against the State’s grade-level academic achievement standards, consistent with 34 CFR 200.6(a)(2)(ii)(A).
Consistent with 34 CFR 200.1(e), we are adding paragraph (c)(3) to make clear that a State may no longer adopt modified academic achievement standards for any students with disabilities under section 602(3) of the IDEA. We are revising current paragraphs (d) and (e) to remove references to “modified academic achievement standards”. Finally, we are revising current paragraphs (f)(3) and (f)(5) to require a State to report to the Secretary the number and performance results, respectively, of children with disabilities, if any, participating in alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards in school years prior to 2015-2016.
The requirements in current paragraphs (c), (d), (e), and (f) applicable to alternate academic achievement standards for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities remain unchanged and fully applicable to a State that has adopted such standards.
Technical Assistance and Monitoring
Comments: Several commenters offered suggestions regarding the technical assistance needed to help States, teachers, and students transition from alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards to new, more accessible general assessments. Some commenters recommended providing technical assistance to help States develop plans to phase out alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards, including support for technical issues such as measuring student growth when data on two years of performance on the same assessment are not available. Other commenters stated that technical assistance is needed to ensure that students with disabilities receive appropriate instruction and supports to allow them to successfully participate in the general assessment. Commenters also emphasized the need to provide training and professional development to all educators to ensure that students with disabilities have meaningful access to the general curriculum, and to emphasize the importance of educating IEP teams, including parents, on determining the appropriate assessments for students with disabilities.
Other commenters stated that States that implemented alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards learned important lessons, as did States that elected not to administer these alternate assessments and focus on improving student outcomes. The commenters recommended that the Department gather this information and use it to promote best practices for including students with disabilities in assessments required for accountability measures under the ESEA.
Some commenters encouraged the Department to monitor schools and States to ensure that supports are provided to students with disabilities who previously participated in alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards.
Discussion: The Department is supporting States in their transition to more accessible general assessment systems. In February 2014, the Department’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) and Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) sponsored a meeting, “Successfully Transitioning Away from the 2% Assessment,” for State teams to jointly learn from and plan for discontinuing the implementation of alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards. Materials from this meeting are posted at www.cehd.umn.edu/nceo/AAMAStransition/default.html. The Department currently funds several technical assistance centers that provide resources on students with disabilities and the instructional supports they need to access the general curriculum and participate in the general assessment (e.g., the Center for Standards and Assessment Implementation; see csai-online.org/). Moreover, several technical assistance centers provide resources that specifically address the needs of students who have persistent academic and behavioral needs that require intensive intervention to succeed in school and prepare them to be college and career ready (e.g., the National Center on Intensive Intervention; see www.intensiveintervention.org/). In addition, the federally funded Parent Training and Information Centers (www.parentcenterhub.org/) focus on ensuring that parents of children with disabilities have the information they need to participate effectively in their child’s education, including making decisions about the assessments that are appropriate for their child. OESE and OSERS will continue to work collaboratively with the Department’s federally funded technical assistance and dissemination partners to ensure that all students, including students with disabilities, have the supports and instruction they need to meet college- and career-ready standards.
With regard to commenters who recommended the Department compile information learned by States that implemented alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards, we note that the work funded by the Department through the GSEG and EAG programs has contributed to the knowledge base about students who are struggling in school. Projects funded by these programs focused on a number of topics, including the characteristics of students who participated in alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards, barriers to their learning and performance, and approaches to making assessments more accessible. Several State projects that focused on instructional matters found that more effort was needed to support teachers in ensuring students with disabilities have meaningful opportunities to learn grade-level content. Other projects focused on the appropriateness of test items and identified various ways to improve the accessibility of test items, such as examining the difficulty of test items and making items more accessible and understandable without changing the knowledge or skill that is being measured (e.g., reducing unimportant or extraneous details from test items). The lessons learned from these projects are in “Lessons Learned in Federally Funded Projects that Can Improve the Instruction and Assessment of Low Performing Students with Disabilities,” available at: www.cehd.umn.edu/nceo/onlinepubs/lessonslearned.pdf.
With respect to commenters who urged the Department to monitor to ensure that supports are provided to students with disabilities who previously participated in alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards, pursuant to 34 CFR 300.149(b) and 300.600, an SEA must monitor public agencies’ implementation of the Act and Part B regulations and ensure timely correction of any identified noncompliance. We expect, therefore, that SEAs will monitor compliance with the provisions in 34 CFR 300.160.
Comments: A few commenters advised the Department to monitor data on the percentage of students participating in alternate assessments based on alternate academic achievement standards following the phase out of alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards. One commenter stated that the Department should publish the assessment data from the 2012-2013 school year as part of the final regulations, including the number and percentage of students with disabilities who took the general assessment and the number and percentage of students who took an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards, and the proficiency rates for each group.
Discussion: Pursuant to the authority of section 618(a)(3) of the IDEA, the Secretary requires States to report the number of students with disabilities who took (1) the general assessment, with and without accommodations; (2) the alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards; (3) the alternate assessment based on grade-level academic achievement standards; and (4) the alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards. These data will help SEAs monitor whether the number of students who take an alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards increases significantly with the elimination of alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards.
Under title I and IDEA, States also are required to report the number of students with disabilities who scored at each academic achievement (performance) level (e.g., basic, proficient, above proficient). These numbers can be aggregated to derive the number of students with disabilities who scored at or above proficient on each assessment. However, States are not required to report the percentages of students with disabilities who scored at or above proficient on each assessment. The most recent year for which data are available is 2011-2012. For additional information on these data and links to the data files see: inventory.data.gov/dataset/95ca1187-69f5-4e70-9f8c-6bbbb3d6d94a/resource/446d130d-5160-4c27-a428-317c6333b38f. In addition, the Department routinely publishes on its Web site States’ Consolidated State Performance Reports (CSPR), which include data on the number and percentage of students with disabilities who participate in the general assessment and each type of alternate assessment (i.e., an alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards, an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards, and an alternate assessment based on grade-level academic achievement standards). The percentage of students with disabilities who score at or above proficient is also reported, but is not disaggregated by type of assessment (general versus alternate assessment). These data are posted at: www2.ed.gov/admins/lead/account/consolidated/index.html. Therefore, we decline to include the assessment data from the 2012-2013 school year in the final regulations, as requested by one commenter.
Alternate Assessments Based on Alternate Academic Achievement Standards
Comments: Several commenters wrote about the need for alternate assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. One commenter asked how the proposed regulations would affect students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who take alternate assessments based on alternate academic achievement standards.
Discussion: The proposed regulations do not affect the assessment of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. A State continues to have the authority under 34 CFR 200.1(d) and 200.6(a)(2)(ii)(B) to define alternate academic achievement standards, administer alternate assessments based on those alternate academic achievement standards, and, subject to the one percent limitation on the number of proficient scores that may be counted for accountability purposes, include the results in accountability determinations.
‘Deathbed’ Map Led to Site of Possible Nazi Gold Train
Because the potential discovery of a long-lost “Nazi gold train” wasn’t tantalizing enough: It turns out that the two men who say they’ve found it got the information from a deathbed confession. Poland’s deputy culture minister explained yesterday that one of the men who allegedly helped hide the train in the waning days of World War II drew a map “on his deathbed,“ reports NBC News. The map pinpoints a spot near Walbrzych, Poland, where the train is supposedly buried. Based on ground-penetrating radar, the Polish government is now convinced that an armored train is indeed present at the undisclosed site, but whether it contains gold, jewels, and art looted by the Nazis remains to be seen.
“We do not know what is inside,“ says minister Piotr Zuchowski of the approximately 300-foot-long train. “Probably military materials, some kind of jewelry, art, and archives.“ Until an official dig can take place, Zuchowski is warning treasure hunters to stay away because there’s a “huge probability that the train is mined.“ The Guardian recounts local lore that Nazis drove a treasure-packed train into a now-disused tunnel near a castle in Walbrzych as the Soviet army advanced, but decades of searches have yielded nothing. The two men who say they discovered the train, a Pole and a German, are asking for a 10% finder’s fee.
Why the U.S. Leads the World in Mass Shootings
High gun ownership rates and high rates of mass shootings might seem like an obvious connection, but University of Alabama researcher Adam Lankford says his study is the first to show empirical evidence that the aforementioned ownership rate “is the strongest predictor of [a country’s] number of public mass shooters.“ His quantitative analysis, based on 46 years of data on mass shootings around the world, found that the U.S. has 5% of the world’s population but 31% of its public mass shootings (defined as the deaths of at least four people and excluding things like domestic incidents and fatalities during robberies). The U.S. has the highest civilian firearm ownership rate, and Lankford says in a press release it’s no coincidence that the other four in the top five—Yemen, Switzerland, Finland, and Serbia—are also in the top 15 for mass shootings.
His study, which has not been published but was presented yesterday at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting, also found that more than 50% of shooters in the U.S. use more than one weapon; in fact, American mass shooters are 3.6 times more likely to use multiple weapons. But while American mass shooters kill an average 6.87 victims, abroad that number stands at 8.81, possibly because U.S. police are better trained in dealing with mass shootings. Lankford says that the main lesson from the study is an obvious one: Mass shootings can be reduced if the number of guns in circulation is reduced, as happened after a spate of shootings in Australia. “I didn’t come into this study with any gun control agenda—I just let the data speak for itself,“ Lankford tells Deutsche Welle. “Whether people are willing to act on it is another question.“
Energy Giant: We Found ‘Largest Ever’ Gas Field
The Italian energy company Eni SpA announced today it has discovered a “supergiant” natural gas field off Egypt, describing it as the “largest-ever” found in the Mediterranean Sea. The news came a day after Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi met in Cairo with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the Egyptian leader’s office said. Eni said the discovery—made in its Zohr prospect “in the deep waters of Egypt"—could hold a potential 30 trillion cubic feet of gas over an area of 38.6 square miles. “Zohr is the largest gas discovery ever made in Egypt and in the Mediterranean Sea and could become one of the world’s largest natural gas finds,“ Eni said in a statement. “The discovery, after its full development, will be able to ensure satisfying Egypt’s natural gas demand for decades.“
Descalzi was quoted by Eni as saying that the discovery reconfirms that “Egypt still has great potential” energy-wise. He said “important synergies with the existing infrastructures can be exploited, allowing us a fast production startup.“ Eni has been in Egypt since 1954 through its subsidiary IEOC. It’s the main hydrocarbon producer in Egypt, with a daily equity production of 200,000 barrels of oil equivalent, the company said.
GOVERNOR TOMBLIN CONGRATULATES ‘GoToWV’ TEAM ON NATIONAL AWARD FOR BEST CAMPAIGN
“Go Outside and Play” campaign recognized at tourism conference
CHARLESTON, WV - Governor Earl Ray Tomblin congratulated the GoToWV Team at the Division of Tourism on receiving the National Council of State Tourism Directors Mercury Award for Best Public Relations Campaign during the Educational Seminar for Tourism Organizations (ESTO) in Portland, Oregon.
“The team at the Division of Tourism works hard to showcase all of the authentic sights and experiences that make the Mountain State truly wild and wonderful,“ Governor Tomblin said. “Whether riding the Hatfield and McCoy trail or fly fishing in one of our natural trout streams, we offer the perfect backdrop for Real. outdoor adventure. The ‘Go Outside and Play’ campaign was a great reminder to encourage us all to take time to go out and explore and experience all West Virginia’s natural beauty has to offer.“
The “Go Outside and Play” campaign challenged West Virginians and visitors to experience some of the Mountain State’s hidden gems that capture both the wild and wonderful qualities of West Virginia. The Division of Tourism team worked with industry partners and media to promote travel in West Virginia through “Go Outside and Play” events across the state including various seasonal activities like rafting, camping, fly fishing and skiing.
“Our ‘Go Outside and Play’ campaign showcased the many things there are to see and do in Wild, Wonderful West Virginia,“ Commissioner of Tourism Amy Shuler Goodwin said. “From camping and fly fishing to skiing and rafting, Real. memories are waiting to be had right here in the Mountain State.“
U.S. state and territory tourism offices that are members of U.S. Travel Association can submit examples of excellence and creative accomplishments for a Mercury Award. The U.S. Travel Association’s ESTO is the only national forum in which tourism professionals at the state, regional and local level gather important tools, tips and information to better market and grow their destinations.
The Mercury Award for Best Public Relations Campaign celebrates campaigns directed at niche markets or a general travel audience, or campaigns that relate to special events, crisis management programs or overall tourism promotion - all of which must focus on a single and unified theme.
West Virginia News
WV attorney general warns of medical supply shipments
CHARLESTON, WV - Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is warning consumers about out-of-state enterprises sending unsolicited order forms, medical supplies or medications to insurance customers without their consent.
The Consumer Protection Division has received several reports of consumers receiving what appear to be order forms for medical supplies and prescriptions from out-of-state pharmacies. Consumers and medical providers are also receiving supplies and prescriptions from these pharmacies, even though they have not placed orders from these companies.
Many of these reports are from residents who are diabetic and frequently fill prescriptions for diabetes medications and testing supplies.
Morrisey’s office is looking into whether there has been a data breach or theft of customer prescription information.
Report: WV high school grads ill-prepared for college
CHARLESTON, WV - A new report says many West Virginia high school graduates are ill-prepared for college.
The annual report by ACT says 21 percent of students who took this year’s ACT test met all four of the organization’s college readiness benchmarks.
West Virginia students topped national English and reading levels. But they lagged behind national math and reading levels.
The report says 69 percent of students were ready for freshman English courses, compared to 64 percent nationally. Forty-eight percent were read for freshman reading courses, compared to 46 percent nationally.
The report says 34 percent of students were ready for math courses, compared to 42 percent nationally. Thirty-four percent were ready for science courses, compared to 38 percent nationally.
A total of 11,289 West Virginia students took this year’s test. West Virginia Town Full of Those Sickened by WiFi
Most Americans hate being out of range of a cell phone tower, but not the residents of Green Bank, West Virginia. A growing number of Americans are moving to this mountain town, population 143, specifically because cell phones and WiFi signals are banned there, lest they interfere with the gigantic radio telescope nearby, the BBC reports. Many of these so-called “WiFi refugees” say they have Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS), and believe electromagnetic-field exposure literally makes them ill.
“It’s a horrible thing … you become a technological leper,” says one self-professed EHS sufferer, who previously lived in a wire mesh-wrapped cage to escape the radio waves. “Living here allows me to be more of a normal person.” But the mere existence of EHS is disputed; the World Health Organization says that it’s “not a medical diagnosis” and that there’s “no scientific evidence” for it. One recent study did demonstrate a link between sufferers’ symptoms and electromagnetic fields, but many still dispute it.
Fayette County commission hopes proactive steps will keep county government ahead of declining revenues
FAYETTEVILLE, WV — The Fayette County Commission is anticipating a major hit to its budget in connection with bankruptcies filed by coal companies.
The commission took a proactive step in a special meeting Friday cutting the county’s budget by 12 percent, equaling $1.2 million.
Commissioners decided to put scheduled projects on hold along with implementing a hiring freeze. Elected officials also will see less money for overtime and travel.
The commission says for now it’s able to cut the budget without layoffs or salary cuts. Nicholas, Mingo, and Boone counties have cut jobs during the past year because of the lagging coal industry and a steep downturn in severance tax revenues. Fayette County has seen a $500,000 reduction.
Friday’s move had more to do with the bankruptcy filings of Alpha Natural Resources and Walter Energy, which both have mining operations in Fayette County. The property taxes of the two companies total approximately $4 million.
Senator: WV Governor wants to keep female prisoners at Lakin
POINT PLEASANT, WV - A state senator says an all-female prison in Mason County likely won’t be converted into a prison for men.
Senate Finance Committee chairman Mike Hall says Governor Earl Ray Tomblin gave him a “clear indication” that proposed changes at the Lakin Correctional Center won’t happen.
Corrections officials hoped to transfer Lakin’s 545 female inmates to the Naval Information Operations Center in Pendleton County and convert Lakin into a prison for men.
Hall says he favors a health-care company’s plan to use the base as a career college for youths moving out of the foster care system.
Media outlets report Tomblin must decide by September 04 whether to accept transfer of the main base in Sugar Grove to state ownership. The base is scheduled to close at the end of September.
Bob Wise papers added to WV state archives
CHARLESTON, WV - A 423-page book chronicling the administration of former Governor Bob Wise has been added to the state archives.
The West Virginia Division of Culture and History announced the addition of the electronic edition of “State Papers and Public Addresses of Bob Wise” on Friday.
The edition covers the former governor’s major policy initiatives. It also includes his 2001 inaugural address, each of his annual State of State addresses and scores of other speeches and documents.
Wise was governor from 2001 until 2005. Before that, he served in Congress for 18 years.
Since leaving office, he has served as president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, an advocacy and research group for improving the quality of the country’s high schools.
Change to Decades-Old Definition a Big Win for Workers
In what the Washington Post calls a “landmark” case, a federal labor board has just made it easier for workers at fast-food restaurants and other franchise operations to negotiate for better wages and working conditions. The National Labor Relations Board changed a three-decade-old definition about which companies should be called “joint employers,“ reports Bloomberg. The term now covers companies that use subcontractors or other middle-men operations to supply employees, meaning unions can now negotiate with the parent company as well as the subcontractor that hired them, explains the New York Times.
The old rule is “increasingly out of step with changing economic circumstances, particularly the recent dramatic growth in contingent employment relationships,” declared the NLRB, which split 3-2 along party lines. The ruling stems from a recycling company that used a temporary staffing agency, but it will be applied to pending cases involving McDonald’s. In fact, it “could upend the traditional arms-length relationship that has prevailed between corporate titans such as McDonald’s and its neighborhood fast-food franchises,“ says the Post. The ruling has been anticipated for a while, and the industry says it will fight to overturn it with help from Republicans in Congress.
Bought Tuna Recently? StarKist May Owe You Money
Sorry, Charlie, time to pay up. StarKist is offering $25 in cash or $50 in free tuna to eligible consumers as part of a class-action lawsuit settlement worth a total of $12 million, the New York Times reports. Those who meet the qualifications—namely, that they’re US residents who purchased a 5-ounce can of one of four varieties of the brand’s tuna between Feb. 19, 2009, and Oct. 31, 2014—can file a claim online.
So what was fishy about the product to elicit this settlement? Plaintiff Patrick Hendricks claimed the company didn’t fill the 5-ounce cans to capacity, and the independent testing he had done showed cans had 17.3% less tuna than the federally mandated minimum, the Times notes. Don’t have your tuna receipts from 2009? The company is going on the honor system, under penalty of perjury, for those who file a claim, Consumerist reports.
Roanoke Gunman Lived In Disgusting Apartment
The Telegraph got a look inside the apartment of Vester Lee Flanagan, the man who shot and killed two WDBJ journalists on live TV, and it doesn’t sound pretty. The newspaper describes a kitchen floor covered in cat urine and a balcony smeared with cat poop when police raided the sparsely furnished apartment yesterday. As for the cats, they were nowhere to be found—neighbors say Flanagan had two, but they’ve been missing since Wednesday’s shootings, and Flanagan claimed in a suicide note that he killed them in the woods. When Flanagan was alive, the Telegraph‘s source says, his neighbors often complained about him to the landlord—for one thing, “he would literally throw cat s—-“ onto the balconies of some neighbors, the source says.
Also in the apartment: pictures of male pin-ups and pictures of Flanagan himself from his reporting career as well as a modeling career he apparently held in his younger years. (The Telegraph also notes that Williams had posted pictures of his “sexy bedroom” on Twitter.) Perhaps most disturbing of all, police say they found “many” sex toys ... some of which possibly have “human material” on them, according to the source who spoke to the newspaper. In the manifesto he sent to ABC News, Flanagan—who was gay—said he had worked as an escort, and the Daily Beast reports that he tweeted earlier this month, “Hell yeah I’ve been a high paid ‘companion.‘“ CNN reports that in 2007, Flanagan registered seven website domain names associated with gay porn, including one “where you can talk live on video chat cam with your favorite gay hunks, pro and amateur models.“ Flanagan was listed as the administrative and technical contact for the sites, which are no longer active.
North Dakota Lets Police Drones Fire Rubber Bullets
Watch the skies in North Dakota: The state has passed a first-of-its-kind law legalizing the use of armed police drones, though they must carry “less than lethal” weapons like tear gas, rubber bullets, beanbags, pepper spray, and Tasers, reports NPR. Interestingly, the law was first introduced as legislation prohibiting all weapons on drones and requiring officers to get a search warrant before using a drone for surveillance. The man behind the bill, Republican state Rep. Rick Becker, tells Ars Technica the law enforcement lobby would only allow the search warrant provision if weapons were allowed.
“I hear a lot of ideas about drones, and this is one of the worst,“ says law professor and drone expert Ryan Calo of the University of Washington. He worries police officers won’t have “situational awareness” in cases where the drones could be used and will use them “too often because the perception (is) that the stakes are not very high.“ He adds, however, “sometimes less-than-lethal can be lethal.“ Indeed, the Guardian reports at least 39 people in the U.S. have died from police Tasers this year alone. Becker says he’s not happy with the final law and will attempt to eliminate the use of weapons. But as North Dakota’s legislative body meets every two years, the earliest the change could come is in 2017.
Woman Wins Disability Payout for WiFi ‘Sensitivity’
Electromagnetic radiation has been around since the universe first formed; it is, in its “most familiar form,“ light, reports the World Health Organization. But as cellphone towers and gadgets proliferate, electromagnetic radiation has increased, and some claim a sensitivity to it. One woman in France is now getting roughly $900 a month from the government in disability pay, reports the BBC. Marine Richard, 39, who says she’s had to move to a barn without electricity in a remote region of France to escape electromagnetic waves, calls the decision a “breakthrough” for those who experience electromagnetic hypersensitivity. But the court in Toulouse—which ruled last month that her symptoms stopped her from working—did not go so far as to call EHS an illness, reports Yahoo News UK.
Though people like Richard have claimed a range of adverse health symptoms, from headaches and nausea to loss of libido and depression, the WHO reports that “scientific evidence does not support a link” between the electromagnetic fields and the symptoms; that “scientific knowledge in this area is now more extensive than for most chemicals”; and that anxiety about exposure could be causing these health problems. In the US, the parents of a 12-year-old boy at a Massachusetts school filed a lawsuit on August 12 claiming that their son has been dealing with headaches, chest pains, nosebleeds, nausea, dizziness, and rashes since the school installed a new wireless network in 2013, reports ABC News. The family is asking for $250,000 in damages. (West Virginia is home to a town for those who say they’ve been sickened by WiFi.)
You Almost Definitely Couldn’t Pass This Indian Exam
Nearly half a million citizens converged upon 71 cities in India Sunday to try their hand at what’s described by coaching expert PS Ravindran as “the mother of all written exams,“ the Global Post reports. It’s the nation’s civil services test, and it’s not for the indolent: It features incredibly difficult and obscure questions—“In which decade was the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) founded?“—and a prescribed study regimen that takes a year and half. Yet applicants vie in droves for a chance to ace it and nab one of the elite civil services gigs up for grabs. Of those 500,000 or so test-takers, 16,000 are culled for 27 more hours of graduate-level testing on a variety of topics (science, economics, history, you name it); from there, the top 2,000 get to go through an “exhaustive” interview, with around 1,100 of those candidates pulled into government services.
Ravindran, who runs an institute that helps candidates prep, recommends hitting the books 12 hours a day for 18 months beforehand. The Global Post reports contenders can take the test up to six times, which would equal about a decade of preparation. And most of the time, it’s not even the job role itself that candidates are interested in. “More than 90% of the aspirants know nothing about the services,“ says a student who just took the test a fourth time. “This is a prestigious exam, once you make it through everyone would start respecting you.“ Ravindran agrees: “[Candidates] know it comes with a lot of power, authority, and position. Most of them don’t know the nature of the job they have to perform.“
WEST VIRGINIA STUDENTS ARE ENCOURAGED TO APPLY FOR U.S. SENATE YOUTH PROGRAM AND SCHOLARSHIP
Two West Virginia students will be chosen to attend the unique government
education program and each will receive a $5,000 scholarship
Application deadline is September 14
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) is encouraging West Virginia high school juniors and seniors interested in government and public service to apply for the 54th Annual United States Senate Youth Program (USSYP). Two applicants will be selected by the West Virginia Department of Education to attend the week-long government educational program held in Washington, D.C. on March 5-12, 2016. In addition, the delegates will each receive a $5,000 undergraduate scholarship to the college or university of their choice. The application deadline is September 14.
“Year after year, the brightest young leaders from around our country are brought together by the U.S. Senate Youth Program for a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to experience American democracy,” Senator Manchin said. “Through this program, students will gain an unparalleled understanding of the political processes of our government and get a firsthand look at the U.S. Senate. I strongly encourage all interested West Virginia students to take advantage of this special opportunity to explore a future in public service and apply for this extraordinary program.”
During the week-long program, students will learn about the history and procedures of the Senate, meet with high-level elected officials and be encouraged to explore a career in public service. They will also have the unique opportunity to hear major policy addresses by Senators, cabinet members, officials of the Departments of State and Defense and directors of federal agencies, as well as participate in a meeting with a Justice of the U.S Supreme Court.
Selection to the program will be based on the students’ proven academic excellence, leadership abilities and commitment to public service. Eligible students must also be currently serving as a student officer and be a West Virginia resident. Interested students should contact their high school principal or the West Virginia selection administrator, Robert Wiseman at
or 304.558.5325 x 53220.
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