School officials reserve judgment on No Child waiver

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Missouri could be among states receiving a waiver to certain provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind law in a second round of requests due Feb. 28 to the U.S. Department of Education.

The state's Board of Education gave the go-ahead Tuesday with a vote of support for submitting an application crafted by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. On Feb. 9, 10 states were granted waivers in the first round of requests. An 11th state, New Mexico, was initially denied a waiver, but after making adjustments to its application, was granted a waiver Feb. 15.

The board approved the application with minor edits. Last fall, President Barack Obama said states will be allowed to seek a waiver from the law, which requires all students to show proficiency in math and reading by 2014. States must meet conditions such as setting standards to prepare students for college and careers, which they detail in their applications.

DESE called the contents of its application, if approved, an opportunity to propose and implement a single system of accountability. The state's plan includes using college- and career-ready standards in reading/language arts and math. As part of the requirements of receiving the waiver, DESE must transition to and implement those standards in at least those subjects for all students and schools no later than the 2013-2014 school year.

School administrators in Southeast Missouri want to see the state receive the waivers because they say the expectations set by No Child Left Behind are unrealistic, but are hesitant to endorse the state's plan fully because they say they are unsure of how its components will affect their districts.

Dr. Rita Fisher, assistant superintendent of the Jackson School District, said she believes there will still be a high degree of accountability with a waiver granted. It would allow state standards to be in place that align with federal standards and the system will look more like a growth model, she said. The waiver may also allow student growth from the start through the finish of a year to be better shown, she said. But her concerns on other components of the plan, such as tying teacher and principal evaluations to student performance, align with those of Dr. Jim Welker, superintendent of the Cape Girardeau School District.

"Is there a fair and effective way to use that in an evaluation?" Welker said. "It could be misused."

Both administrators say that since all teachers don't have the same group of students year after year, that it will be difficult to measure their performance with their students.

The Missouri State Teachers Association is also opposed to using student performance to determine teacher quality.

"Our state assessment system was not designed to measure 'teach affect' as prescribed in the evaluation component of the application," the association wrote in a section of its website dedicated to its many concerns over the state's plan to obtain a waiver. The association contends that assessment results are a combination of factors, including student knowledge, curriculum and instruction, and said that teachers have little control over curriculum.

Another concern for Welker is the cost to individual districts if additional assessments are needed in order for a waiver to some provisions of No Child Left Behind to stay in place. The association also stated it would be more cost-effective for the state to keep current requirements for accountability in place. Overall, however, Welker said he supports the effort to seek a waiver at a time when revisions to No Child Left Behind don't seem like a possibility. Fisher said she thinks the state's plan will help work out "kinks in the system."

Illinois' state board of education also approved a state-composed waiver application Tuesday. The state's plan proposes using multiple measures to evaluate its nearly 4,000 public schools and cut achievement gaps and the percent of students not making progress in half by 2018.

The U.S. Department of Education has not yet set a date to release information on which states may receive a waiver in the second round.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

301 N. Clark Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO

614 E. Adams St., Jackson, MO

Jefferson City, MO

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