Md. expected to apply for NCLB waiver Monday

Application says schools should cut achievement gaps in half in the next six years

February 26, 2012|By Liz Bowie, The Baltimore Sun

State education leaders expect to apply Monday for a waiver from some of the most rigid requirements of a federal law widely viewed as flawed because it has labeled so many schools as failing.

If theU.S. Department of Educationgrants Maryland an exemption from the No Child Left Behind law, schools and teachers would have more reasonable goals for what their students are expected to achieve. Currently the law says that every student in the country should be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

Maryland's application says schools should cut their achievement gaps in half in the next six years. Schools would be measured not just on how all students perform, but also on groups of students, including minorities, special education students and those who speak English as a second language.

The application addresses the steps the state is taking "to ensure that students are successful, that they learn, that schools help them grow," said Mary Gable, assistant state superintendent of academic policy.

Parents and students should see a curriculum that is not as wide, but deeper, and standards that "hold schools and local school districts accountable, but take away those punishments and labels that have not proven to be helpful," she said.

Maryland is expected to gain approval of the waiver. All 11 of the states that applied in the first round have received approval, after some modifications to their applications. More than 30 states have signaled their intent to apply for the waiver by Tuesday, the deadline for the next round. The waivers, if approved, would take effect immediately. Decisions are expected in the spring.

In September, President Barack Obama offered states that have embraced his administration's key education reform initiatives — including Maryland — the opportunity to apply for a waiver from some of the elements of the Bush administration's 2002 signature education law.

But states had to agree to three education reforms, all of which Maryland has already adopted because it won the Race to the Top federal grant, as well as decide what new goals they would have for student achievement.

Gable said each school will be given an individual goal to meet in six years in reading and math. Using the percentage of its students that now pass Maryland School Assessments, the state will require each school to halve the number of students who currently aren't achieving.

For example, a school with 50 percent of its fifth-graders reading proficiently in 2011 would be expected to have 75 percent reading proficiently in six years. Each year, the school would be expected to make growth toward that goal. In addition, groups such as special education students would have a goal of meeting the same amount of progress.

Under the current law, that school would be expected to have every fifth-grader reading on grade level by 2014.

High schools would be judged on how well students do on the Maryland High School Assessments and on whether they were increasing their graduation rate.

A school that doesn't meet the goals would not be labeled failing and would not have to institute drastic overhauls that could include getting rid of the principal and most of the teachers.

Schools would be put into one of three categories: priority, focus or reward. Schools in the bottom 5 percent in the state would receive significant attention from the local school district to improve achievement.

Under the current law, about one-third of Maryland schools have been labeled as failing, and that group was expected to grow significantly in the next two years. Eventually, the state would have required major changes — removing teachers and principals, and overhauling programs — even in schools that are considered top performers but where a handful of special education or minority students are failing tests.

NCLB is widely viewed by educators as a failure because its goal of having all children in the country proficient in reading and math at their grade level by 2014 is considered unattainable. However, Congress has not come to an agreement on a bill to reauthorize the law, so the Obama administration offered waivers before about half of the schools in the country would have been labeled failing.

To receive a waiver, states have also had to adopt the common core standards, commit to giving new assessments developed to go with those standards, and create a new teacher and principal evaluation system.

Maryland has already undertaken all of those strategies.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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