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School officials react to waiver
State exempt from No Child Left Behind requirements
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
By BULLETIN STAFF REPORTS -
Local school officials are mixed on the state’s efforts to devise an alternative to the federal No Child Left Behind school accountability requirements.
Virginia was granted a waiver from the No Child Left Behind requirements in June. In exchange for the waiver, Virginia is developing accountability plans that set new targets for raising student achievement, advancing teacher effectiveness, improving the performance of low-performing schools and preparing students for careers and college, according to The Associated Press.
Henry County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jared Cotton had mixed reactions about the state coming up with the new plans.
“It’s not a long-term solution,” he said. While he does not know what the new system will entail, he feels the model that the Virginia Department of Education is looking at is limited in fully assessing student achievement, he said.
Cotton said he feels students should be assessed on an individual basis. That is because even if a student is not meeting certain targets by passing the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests, he or she still may be making progress, he added.
Additional assessments should be done to show a student’s progress, he said.
Cotton said he feels there will be benefits to being exempt from the No Child Left Behind Act.
For one, the school system no longer will be required to implement sanctions or supplemental services if student achievement is low or the act’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) benchmarks are not met, Cotton said.
In the past, if the AYP benchmarks were not met for two years in a row, the school system would have to give students the opportunity to switch schools or enroll in after-school tutoring, he said. The school system had no say on who provided the tutoring services, and there was a risk of the services being low quality, he added.
Another benefit is that now the school system will not be required to meet the benchmark of a 100 percent student passing rate for reading and math tests by 2014, Cotton said. That requirement would have been challenging to accomplish, he added.
Martinsville City Schools Superintendent Pam Heath said she is pleased that the state received the waiver because she feels that No Child Left Behind Act had a good intention and served its purpose, but it’s time for something new.
“It’s a move in the right direction,” she said.
Schools should be accountable for its students, and the new system still makes that a priority, Heath said. “There will still be expectations,” she added.
It was too difficult to meet requirements of the original No Child Left Behind Act, and the sanctions were expensive, Heath said. She added that in her opinion, the sanctions “didn’t necessarily improve instruction.”
Her only concern is that Virginia still should find a way to begin incorporating more project-based and product-oriented learning into instruction, instead of centering all instruction around the Standards of Learning tests, Heath said.
While SOL tests are important, student achievement should be measured in more ways, Heath added.
Dr. Karen Wood, director of instruction for Patrick County Schools, said she thinks the waiver is a positive for all schools in Virginia.
She agreed with Cotton that the goal to have every student proficient in reading and math by 2014 was unrealistic, she said. She feels that the new system will allow Virginia to establish realistic goals that will be in line with students’ needs, she added.
In the new guidelines, the goal is to reduce the rate of failures in reading and math by 50 percent within the next six years, which Wood feels is a good idea, she said.
“All children will make gains, and that’s what we’re all about,” she said.
Wood likes that the new system will have more of focus on Hispanics, those with disabilities, minorities and those living in poverty; goals will be set exclusively for these groups; and their tests scores will be monitored closely to make sure the goals are being met, Wood said.
The state also agreed under the waiver to provide additional support to 15 percent of its lowest-performing Title I schools. Title 1 schools receive federal funds to meet the needs of low-income and at-risk students, according to online sources.
Thirty-six schools, the bottom 5 percent, will be labeled “priority schools.” The next 10 percent, or 72 schools, will be called “focus schools,” the AP reported.
Wood said she was pleased with the idea of providing more support to the lowest-performing schools because she felt that was lacking in the past.
It may take a while for everyone to adjust to the new system, but Wood said she feels that “it will fall into place” once everyone becomes fully knowledgeable of the changes, she said.
“I think it’s positive” that Virginia now can have more flexibility in deciding on how to best care for its students, she added.
Virginia is among 24 states that have received waivers from the No Child Left Behind requirement that all students test proficient in math and reading by 2014. Virginia received its waiver in June, along with Arkansas, Missouri, South Dakota and Utah, according to the AP.