Federal standard could be history



October 5, 2011 - 12:00 AM

New waiver provisions for the No Child Left Behind Act authorized last month by the Obama administration have local educators and state officials breathing a sigh of relief.
When enacted in 2002, NCLB mandated every single child in the United States be proficient in math and reading by 2014 with the expectation Congress would revisit the law by 2007. But because Congress hasn’t reauthorized the law, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan created a series of waivers states can apply for, opting out of current NCLB provisions.
“We’d all like to have 100 percent of the kids reach proficiency, but, realistically, there will be some that won’t,” said Judi Miller, assistant director for title programs and services at the Kansas State Department of Education.
Local school administrators agree the current standard is unobtainable.
“Everybody knew this was an impossible goal,” said USD 257 Superintendent of Schools Brian Pekarek. “Nobody is going to reach 100 percent proficiency because we’re just humans. We make mistakes.”
If school districts fail to meet the scaling standard — about 91 percent for reading and about 89 percent for math this school year — they are required to develop a recovery plan, an often pricey expense in today’s economy, Miller said.
“That costs money,” she said. “When you pay for those (recovery plans) it reduces the resources available to provide teachers to get that extra help in the classroom on reading and math.”
K.B. Criss, USD 258 superintendent of schools, said the costs associated with any recovery program could become ever more burdensome as 2014 nears.
“You can have 48 of 50 students score proficient on the exam — which is phenomenal — and your school would still be labeled as a failure because you weren’t at 100 percent,” he said, adding that as NCLB standards are currently written, 96 percent proficiency would still require a district to invest in a recovery plan.
Of all Allen County institutions, Iola’s Jefferson Elementary and middle school did not meet proficiency standards in math and reading for 2010-2011 school year.  
The recent moves by the federal education department made Kansas eligible to seek a waiver bypassing the 100 percent standard in exchange for an adequate, state-created accreditation program for Kansas public schools. Because the state Board of Education still needs to approve the pursuit of a waiver at its meeting next week, Miller said the accountability measures are still being conceptualized.
“We’re just now beginning to understand what’s in the waiver packages and how to strategize how to go forward with it,” she said.
Even without a solidified plan, a statement released Tuesday by KSDE indicated the state plans to use a “broader approach” to gauging student progress in math and reading by evaluating individual student results based on growth and status.  
“Schools would receive credit for showing improvement even if the overall level of achievement was not at the (adequate yearly progress) target level,” the release stated.
Criss said monitoring education standards on an individual basis is better for everybody.
“The original intent of No Child Left Behind was great. It held districts accountable to focus on improvement for each class. Now it needs to be based on some sort of growth model,” he said. “That way you’re testing each kid instead of being judged on a class of 50.”
Throughout October, Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker and Deputy Commissioner for Learning Services Brad Neuenswander, former USD 257 superintendant, will give a series of talks to the BOE and the Kansas Association of School Boards Legislative Committee intended to share accreditation concepts during regularly scheduled regional education summits. The KASB committee will meet Nov. 5 to make a final recommendation to the KASB Delegate Assembly.
Miller said the actual waiver submission to the federal government won’t happen until mid-February.

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