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How school reform is altering classrooms

New data on the No Child Left Behind act reveals better record-keeping but a shortage of qualified teachers.

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Despite a tide of resistance in school districts all over the country, federal education reforms now in their third year are beginning to do what few such efforts ever achieve: change what goes on in American classrooms.

For the first time in US history, an overwhelming majority of states now test new teachers. They also test nearly all students, including those deemed learning disabled. And they are publicly reporting information on the safety conditions in public schools that either hadn't been collected or was locked away in file drawers, according to a study on the state implementation of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act released Wednesday by the Education Commission of the States.

But the report also concludes that few states are on track for ensuring a qualified teacher in every classroom. Fewer than half of states, for instance, are providing high-quality help to failing schools. And many states don't have systems to collect the massive amount of data required to meet the new law's standards.

More than 20 states have asked for relief from the new law, which has become the butt of jokes on late-night television and the leading teachers' union website. Backers say it's a sign that the new law is taking hold.

"I'm glad that there is consternation with it," says Sandy Cress, senior adviser to President Bush on education and a consultant with school districts on NCLB. "It means that people are wrestling with it. Like Job wrestling with the angel, there's good at the end of it."

Teachers in Pueblo, Colo., thought they were doing a good job educating mostly poor and Hispanic kids - until they started seeing statewide test results.

"We called it 'CSAT shock,' " says school superintendent Joyce Bales of Colorado's student assessment program. "People thought they were doing a lot better than they were."

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