School officials want to see plan on seeking No Child waiver

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Area school administrators say they support Missouri opting out of No Child Left Behind but would like to see the plan first.

According to a news release from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, state education commissioner Chris Nicastro told members of the State Board of Education last week she is "cautiously optimistic" that the state will be well-positioned to submit a viable plan by the February deadline.

"We are proceeding carefully," Nicastro said in the release. "We want to be sure we are very knowledgeable of all the conditions of submitting such a waiver and whatever obligations that might create for our state before we go too far down this road."

The Obama administration outlined guidelines and rules for the waivers in September. According to the administration, states that receive a waiver would no longer have to set targets that require 100 percent of students to be proficient in math and communication arts by 2014.

The new system would instead allow states to design a system targeting the lowest-performing schools and districts. States, districts and schools could also use federal funding in ways they determine meet their needs, although federal funds that meet the needs of particular populations, such as disadvantaged students, would not be allowed to be changed by states. To receive a waiver, states must, among other things, identify 10 percent of their lowest-performing schools, intervene in 5 percent of their lowest-performing schools and create guidelines for teacher evaluations based in part on student performance.

The No Child Left Behind Act was passed in 2002 and requires schools receiving federal funding to administer annual standardized tests 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. Schools that don't make the cut face varying levels of sanctions.

The Obama administration has said that Congress waited too long to make needed changes to the law.

Dr. Rita Fisher, assistant superintendent of the Jackson School District, said that even with a waiver, she still wants to see school districts held accountable for student performance. With a waiver, accountability will still exist but will be more attainable, she said.

Nicastro said in the release that the state wants to make sure superintendents, board members and others have an opportunity to review the draft application and provide feedback before it is submitted.

Fisher agrees with that idea.

"Absolutely," she said. "We would definitely be interested to see what the expectations would be if we were granted the waiver."

According to DESE, department staff members are analyzing the requirements for the waiver and are comparing it to the state's accountability system. Nicastro said using one system to evaluate accountability instead of two is desirable because having two systems has been confusing.

According to Theresa Hinkebein, curriculum coordinator for the Cape Girardeau School District, what she knows about the waiver so far tells her the changes could make measuring accountability at the federal level similar to the use of a growth model in place at the state level.

"How it will exactly look, I am not for sure," she said.

The district will also want to review the waiver draft, she said.

Hinkebein said she feels school districts will benefit if Missouri is granted a waiver.

"It appears that some of the sanctions are counterproductive, because students move from one school to another," Hinkebein said. The sanction for schools not making adequate yearly progress two years in a row is to have to offer school choice to another school within the district.

"There is loading up of classrooms with students at some schools. Instead of good, reasonable class sizes in all our schools, schools have to increase class sizes," she said. Hinkebein said that situation has occurred in the Cape Girardeau elementary schools.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

301 N. Clark Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO

614 E. Adams St., Jackson, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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