Feds Might Give Waivers: Local School Districts React With Caution
York, PA- Some local school district officials cautiously welcomed the idea of flexibility on the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law, saying they want more details on how proposed relief would work.Since the law took effect in 2002, educators have contended that its goal of having 100 percent of students passing standardized reading and math tests by 2014, while noble, is unrealistic. The law aimed to improve student achievement through increased accountability for schools.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Education, citing a lack of action from Congress to reauthorize the law, announced that it will create a process to allow states to ask that some of the requirements be waived.
The law requires a certain percentage of students at individual schools and districts to meet progress targets on annual math and reading exams, with the bar rising over the years. By 2014, schools are required to have 100 percent of students scoring proficient or better on the tests.
The department said Monday it will allow states to apply for waivers from some requirements provided the states embrace other education reforms.
Details on the waivers have not been released and are not expected until September. But the department said the package would reflect goals similar to those in the administration’s proposal for fixing No Child Left Behind, such as an accountability system based on measuring student growth.
The flexibility would have the most impact starting in the 2012-13 school year, according to the department.
Some local officials were receptive to the idea.
“Why aren’t we applying for a waiver immediately?” asked Stewart Weinberg, superintendent of the Dallastown Area School District. “It’s a great idea.”
Student achievement needs to be looked at more broadly, he said. The reality is, there’s no way 100 percent of students in the nation are going to achieve proficiency or better by 2014, he said.
“We are going to do our best,” he said. But in Dallastown, some students have severe learning handicaps, he said, and it’s possible some might not achieve proficiency.
The Dallastown Area School District made “adequate yearly progress” as required last year, though two of its schools did not because their special education subgroups struggled on the reading test.
“It was never realistic to begin with,” he said.
Kate Orban, York Suburban School District superintendent, said she needs more information about how the waivers would work.
No Child Left Behind upped the ante in schools, she said, but even school districts that are making improvements can be penalized under the AYP system. Some sort of relief allowing districts to show that they are moving in the right direction might be of value, she said.
“Before I’d advise my district of anything, I’d want to know all the details,” she said.
But 2014 — the year schools are supposed to reach 100 percent proficiency — is just around the corner, she said.
For the 2010-11 school year, the targets were 67 percent proficiency in math and 72 percent in reading. This school year, they grow to 78 percent in math and 81 percent in reading.
“It’s just not achievable yet,” Orban said of the 2014 goal.
Red Lion Area School District Supt. Scott Deisley said in an email that he believes flexibility is good, but it’s difficult to say if waivers will be beneficial, since it is not clear what would be expected of those that apply.
“My concern is that no details are available and there will surely be strings attached to any waivers,” he wrote.
Emilie Lonardi, superintendent of the West York Area School District, said she didn’t give the federal announcement much energy, since the devil would be in the details.
She needs to hear what the waivers would mean, and what they’d mean financially for districts, she said.
Deisley said he would like to see a growth model, which measures how much students learn from one year to the next, used to measure student achievement.
Weinberg said he’d like to see officials at the local level be allowed to create a process to measure student achievement.
He speculated that some ingredients from Race to the Top, a federal funding competition that rewarded states for education reform plans, might be attached to waivers. Some parts of Race to the Top seemed viable, but others did not, he said.
Weinberg said he’d like to see some sort of action so that school districts know what they are doing. There are so many things that are iffy, he said, like Pennsylvania‘s Keystone exams, end-of-course exams that districts can use to meet high school graduation requirements.
“It’d be nice for somebody to make some decisions,” he said.
Read more about the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed flexibility for states on requirements of the No Child Left Behind law at www.ed.gov.
No Child Left Behind requires that schools have a certain percentage of students achieving proficiency or better on standardized reading and math tests each year. The bar has been rising over time, with the goal being 100 percent proficiency in 2014.
Here’s a look at how the targets have been increasing in Pennsylvania.
2002-2004 — 45 percent
2005-2007 — 54 percent
2008-2010 — 63 percent
2011 — 72 percent
2012 — 81 percent
2013 — 91 percent
2014 — 100 percent
2002-2004 — 35 percent
2005-2007 — 45 percent
2008-2010 — 56 percent
2011 — 67 percent
2012 — 78 percent
2013 — 89 percent
2014 — 100 percent
See original story and more: http://www.ydr.com/ci_18675417
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