State to receive No Child Left Behind waiver
The state is about to receive its requested waiver from provisions of No Child Left Behind, the federal education law that attached high stakes to student test scores. New Hampshire Department of Education officials said yesterday that they expect to receive the approval letter later this week but cautioned that it could include caveats.
“We are looking forward to working closely with our schools to implement the principles in the waiver, and we are anxiously awaiting the final letter of approval from (Education) Secretary (Arne) Duncan,” said Paul Leather, state deputy education commissioner.
States were first invited to apply for waivers in summer 2011, but New Hampshire held off until last summer as it studied how it could meet the waiver standards while maintaining local control. The waivers allow states to get out of provisions that have increasingly labeled districts as failing based on student test scores. To receive a waiver, New Hampshire had to develop its own plan that focused on closing the gap between high- and low-performing students, increase equality among districts and improve student outcomes and teacher effectiveness.
A key change in the state’s waiver is getting rid of the “district/school in need of improvement” designation. It’s replaced by “priority” and “focus” schools, both of which must be schools receiving Title 1 funding. A priority school would be among the lowest 5 percent of schools in the state based on statewide testing. Focus schools would comprise an additional 10 percent of schools with the largest gaps between the highest- and lowest-achieving students. The state has identified approximately 26 priority schools and 23 focus schools, said Heather Gage, chief of staff for the education department’s director in the division of instruction.
No Child Left Behind, implemented in 2001, set a goal of 100 percent proficiency in math and English by 2014, and as that deadline loomed, more and more schools were labeled “in need of improvement.” Without the waiver, about 75 percent the state’s schools would have fallen into that category next year. Districts that fall into that category more than two years in a row face increasing sanctions from the federal government dictating how they use federal education funds. Under the law, a school can be labeled as failing if even one category of students, such as English language learners, don’t meet proficiency.
“There will no longer be a stigma attached by being a school in need of improvement or even a district in need of improvement,” said Helene Bickford, superintendent of SAU 53, which incudes Pembroke, Allenstown, Epsom and Deerfield. All have schools that have been labeled in need of improvement.
The waiver outlines seven turnaround principles that priority and focus schools would be required to implement, some of which have already been tested by districts that received federal School Improvement Grants, such as Franklin. They include: evaluating and removing a school’s principal if necessary; reviewing the quality of staff and preventing ineffective teachers from joining the district; designating more time for student learning and teacher collaboration; aligning curriculum with the state’s college and career-ready standards; using data to inform instruction; establishing a safe and positive school environment; and providing ways for student and family engagement.
Beyond these new definitions, the provisions in the waiver create greater support systems for districts that need help, put more stock in student growth rather than testing benchmarks, and revamp teacher evaluations. If accepted as is, the waiver outlines a state-approved teacher evaluation system, but local districts have the authority to create their own.
“In true New Hampshire style, it’s got to be up to the local school board to decide,” said Tom Raffio, chairman of the state Board of Education. “Everybody has the children’s best interest in mind, so I think that ultimately while the potential of patchwork exists, I think in general . . . people are much more comfortable with more local control.”
Committees of conference in the Legislature have agreed on two bills that allow for the implementation of the waiver, one focusing on teacher evaluations and the other on performance and accountability standards. Both will be up for final votes in the House and Senate next week.