Missouri ponders waiver of No Child Left Behind

Sunday, September 25, 2011

An announcement that states can apply for waivers to some requirements of No Child Left Behind has some local administrators ready to sigh with relief while others wonder how Missouri will meet the waiver conditions.

According to a news release from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, waivers will allow states to set their own standards as long as they meet guidelines established by the Obama administration. State education commissioner Chris Nicastro said Friday it is too soon to know if Missouri will ask for a waiver.

Last week's statement from the White House that outlines guidelines and rules for the waivers said states would no longer have to set targets that require 100 percent of students to be proficient in math and communication arts by 2014, and could instead establish goals in communication arts and math to support improvement for all populations of students. States would also receive relief from a system that overidentifies schools as failing and a one-size-fits-all approach to interventions, instead allowing the states to design a system targeting the lowest-performing schools and districts.

Another change will be that states, districts and schools could use funding in ways they determine meet their needs. Funds that meet the needs of particular populations, such as disadvantaged students, would be protected. In order to receive a waiver, the state must develop a plan addressing areas to improve instruction and student performance.

The performance standards and expectations of schools set by No Child Left Behind have for several years been seen by many educators as unrealistic.

The law requires schools receiving federal funding to administer a statewide annual standardized test to all students. In Missouri, students in third through eighth grades take the Missouri Assessment Program test and high school students take end-of-course examinations. The test scores are used to measure the performances of the schools and whether they made adequate yearly progress at the federal level and met standards on Annual Performance Reports at the state level.

Dr. Rita Fisher, assistant superintendent of the Jackson School District, said that should Missouri be granted waivers, she hopes the confusion due to having to meet performance measures at both state and federal levels will decrease.

"We should have one set of standards that we need to meet," she said.

Fisher said that under the waivers No Child Left Behind would set goals that are more attainable for districts.

"I think everybody knows something has to change, but it's difficult to say we are going to change No Child Left Behind. Politically, its difficult. But if we can find something that is reasonable for students, I think it's a good thing."

Dr. Mike Cowan, principal of Cape Girardeau Central High School, said educators have been anticipating changes to No Child Left Behind for some time.

"This legislation has been flawed since day one," Cowan said. "You cannot set a quantitative standard that 100 percent of students have to be proficient."

He said he would like to see the state move away from standardized tests such as MAP tests and end-of-course tests. In the place of the end-of-course tests, he said he would like to see the use of the ACT, which has scores that are significant to colleges as opposed to other forms of state standardized testing.

"Hopefully we will have the wisdom to seek the waivers," he said.

Dr. Sherry Copeland, assistant superintendent of the Cape Girardeau School District, said eliminating some requirements with waivers sounded good but that Missouri would have a problem in developing a comprehensive plan in order to receive the waivers -- that is, a requirement to set basic guidelines for teacher and principal evaluation and support systems.

According to the White House statement, the state and its districts would be required to develop the systems with input from teachers and principals and would assess their performance based on several measures, including student performance. Copeland said the state currently has no formal way of tying teacher performance to student performance.

Cape Girardeau district curriculum coordinator Theresa Hinkebein said she views the announcement as preliminary information about what will happen to the requirements of No Child Left Behind, but in the meantime said she thinks the changes will help schools.

"I think No Child Left Behind has forced school districts to really look at the needs of all students, and I think it's gotten us to where we are making really good use of data, and too, it's helped us put into place quality professional development," she said.

"There were some good rationales behind it, but there needs to be a change."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

eragan@semissourian.com

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Pertinent address:

301 N. Clark Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO

614 E. Adams St., Jackson, MOe

Map of pertinent addresses

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