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SAD 17 looks forward to 'No Child Left Behind' waiver
STATE — Next week the state plans to deliver a waiver application to the U.S. Department of Education requesting flexibility with some requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, reauthorized in 2002 as the No Child Left Behind Act.
NCLB gave schools the target of 100 percent student proficiency in math and English language arts by 2014-2015 – progress was measured with yearly standardized testing given to students in grades three through eight and once in high school.
For Maine schools receiving Title I funding, including six in SAD 17, the waiver could provide some welcome relief from NCLB standards many consider arbitrary and unrealistic.
The Maine Department of Education says the NCLB standards are difficult for Title I schools to reach – the number of Maine students failing to meet the uniform statewide proficiency has been increasing every year.
"Everyone knows it's flawed, everyone knows we need a new system," says Maine Department of Education spokesperson David Connerty-Marin.
The waiver would allow the state to assess schools based on their past performance, rather than an unrealistic and arbitrary uniform standard.
As Connerty-Marin explains, under NCLB schools were expected to meet constantly increasing annual goals, with the end target of 100 percent proficiency by 2014-2015.
For some schools, meeting the yearly proficiency target is achievable – if the yearly goal is 75 percent proficiency, a school at 73 percent can achieve that.
For other schools, that goal can seem impossible.
"You have other districts at 30 percent," Connerty-Marin explains. "Obviously we need those schools at 30 percent to do better, but it would be ridiculous to assume they're going to go from 30 percent to 75 percent in one year."
Under the current system, Connerty-Marin says, school accomplishment isn't recognized – if a school improves proficiency by 10 percent in a year it should be considered progress, and not be penalized for failing to meet an unrealistic goal.
The new model would identify, recognize and support schools based on past performance – the state's goal is to reduce the percentage of Title I students that are not proficient by half in the next six years.
Ambitious, but achievable goals will be set on a per-school basis.
For example, if 60 percent of students at a particular school were determined not to be proficient, the school's goal would be to bring that level to 30 percent in six years, or 5 percent per year.
For a school with 24 percent non-proficient students, the school would have a goal of 12 percent, or 2 percent a year.
Using this method of assessment, the DOE believes it can more accurately determine a school's progress and target under-performing schools for additional support and intervention.
Although SAD 17's Title I Director Kathy Elkins is unsure of the new system's details, she believes the waiver will be positive.
"I just know overall, it's got to be better than what's happening now," she says.
Elkins says that six out of 10 schools in SAD 17 receive Title I funding.
"We have had schools that have not made adequate, yearly progress based on two students' performance in one subgroup," she explains. "That's crazy ... that's not a good way to judge the quality of education and what we are doing for our students."
More flexible standards will allow SAD 17 to avoid the sanctions applied to under-performing Title I schools.
In the current model, schools that do not show progress after two years are given Continuous Improvement Priority Schools status and growing levels of sanctions are applied.
Connerty-Marin explains that under-preforming schools are required to direct some of their Title I allocation to professional development and after-school tutoring – higher levels of sanctions can be even more severe.
"By the time you're at CIPS four, they're asking for some significant restructuring," Elkins explains.
The sanctions mean that the school is not in control of its own Title I funds. In Oxford Elementary School, for example, 10 percent of Title I funding is directed to private tutoring for students, Elkins says.
"We could use that money, I think, in a more productive way," Elkins says.
Under the new flexibility model, those sanctions would be lifted, allowing schools to direct where the federal funding goes.
According to Connerty-Marin, more accurate school assessments mean the state can focus on the schools that are really struggling – only the bottom 5 percent of schools will be in the priority category and provided additional support and possible intervention.
"We have a lot of schools right now that fit into these categories," he explains.
"On the positive side, that means we get to support a lot more schools, but on the flip side, we don't have the capacity to provide the kinds of support that that many schools need ... by narrowing this we can provide more targeted support and really work with these schools to help them progress."
"It's just a matter of being more honest about where people are at," Connerty-Marin explains.
Connerty-Marin says that the flexibility model isn't perfect – it still relies too much on testing and the standards and assessments do not apply to schools that do not receive Title I funds.
According to Connerty-Marin, Maine DOE is looking at applying the same kind of standards to all schools in the state.
The state intends to file its waiver application on September 6.