No Child Left Behind waiver gives District 194 more flexibility
by Aaron Vehling
The Lakeville public school district will have some more flexibility with regard to student assessments.
Last week President Barack Obama announced that Minnesota will be one of 10 states to have a waiver from the No Child Left Behind federal education mandate.
“While we are fortunate to have experienced strong performance on accountability tests, the current NCLB system has made it more and more difficult to meet the needs of those students most in need of academic help,” said Jason Molesky, assessment and accountability coordinator for Lakeville Area Public Schools.
The waiver exempts Minnesota from requiring all students to be 100 percent proficient in reading and math by 2014, but districts are not completely off the hook. Districts are still required to set targets for improving achievement among all students, according to the district.
In addition, as was done under NCLB, districts must still develop effective teacher and principal evaluation mechanisms, reward the best performing schools while helping those that are underperforming. Another expectation is preparing students for future education and career opportunities.
“The approval of this waiver will allow our district to better meet the needs of our struggling students by giving us the flexibility to spend Title I dollars for student support, rather than set it aside for federal mandates,” Molesky said.
The Minnesota Department of Education implemented exams called the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments to carry out the NCLB law. Districts would need to improve on the previous year’s scores in a number of demographic categories in order to meet Adequate Yearly Progress.
Lakeville has, for the bulk of the life of the law, met AYP in most demographic subgroups. Last year, all of the groups made AYP, resulting overall in students achieving 87 percent proficiency in reading and 73 percent in math.
In years past, tests for those subjects are administered in grades three through eight. In high school, reading tests are given during the sophomore year and math tests are given during the junior year.
Officials looked at not only how a collective body of students perform, but also how those subgroups did in certain areas.
Sometimes even one subgroup of students performing poorly on tests can label an entire school or district as “needs improvement.”
“The new accountability model will not only identify schools that are meeting and exceeding proficiency in reading and mathematics,” Molesky said, “but also recognize those schools in which students are making significant progress and schools in which the achievement gap is closing.”
The law has been up for renewal since 2007, but federal lawmakers have not been able to agree on a plan to revamp it.
U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Lakeville, who chairs the House Education and Workforce Committee, criticized the waivers, which are an executive order from the Obama administration.
While agreeing that states should be able to opt out of the federal NCLB legislation, Kline told Minnesota Public Radio that the administration’s bypassing of Congress was “terrible overreach.”
It is still early in the process to determine the full impact of the waiver on Lakeville, but Molesky is optimistic.
“These changes in accountability measures will allow us to celebrate the positive things that are happening in schools,” he said, “rather than focusing solely on increasing proficiency targets.”
Aaron Vehling is at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.facebook.com/thisweeklive.