The record of states in implementing the new law show that the 1994 statute poses a substantial challenge. Although nearly every state has adopted content standards, as the law requires, reviews of such standards show that their rigor and usefulness vary widely (American Federation of Teachers, 1998; Council for Basic Education, 1998; Fordham Foundation, 1998). In addition, only 21 states and Puerto Rico adopted performance standards by the law's deadline of spring 1998; the rest received waivers to allow them more time.
Although the law's requirements for assessments and accountability do not take effect until 2000–2001, the plans that states have developed for such measures suggest that they may fall short of the law's intent. For example, many states have failed to indicate that they will include students with disabilities and English-language learners in their assessments, despite the law's requirements that they do so. Others have created accountability mechanisms that do not necessarily encourage schools to focus attention on poor and disadvantaged students (Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights, 1998; Chun and Goertz, 1999).
In part because of the uneven progress in implementing the statute, several commentators have begun the debate over the 1999 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act by suggesting that it is time to rethink Title I's purpose and to rewrite the law in dramatic ways. Some critics, contending that the law has failed in its attempt to raise the academic performance of poor children, have argued that the federal government should scrap most of its rules and send money to states with few strings attached, while holding states accountable for results (Finn et al., 1999; Ravitch, 1999). Others maintain that under Title I the federal government has been too lax and has allowed states to support reforms that were ineffective or even harmful; they argue that Title I funds should be directed at efforts that have been shown to improve schooling for disadvantaged children (Orfield, 1999). Still others note that the law is not yet fully in place, but that its principles are sound and could show promise if implemented effectively (Independent Review Panel, 1999).
The purpose of this report is not to recommend a plan for the reauthorization of Title I. The Committee on Title I Testing and Assessment was not asked