Oklahoma request for NCLB waiver should benefit students

From NewOK.com

TEN years after schools began aggregating student test scores, attendance and graduation rates into performance reports to the federal government, Oklahoma has joined 10 other states applying for an exemption from the No Child Left Behind Act.

We're hopeful the waiver will be approved in providing a more equitable way of judging schools along with developing strategies for school reform.

NCLB has drawbacks. The progress of schools and students isn't properly recognized in the annual Academic Performance Index. Teachers often spend too much time priming students for the annual tests instead of providing actual instruction. With requirements getting stricter each year, almost all state schools would fall on the needs-improvement list by 2014.

State schools Superintendent Janet Barresi's involvement in Chiefs for Change, a 10-member group of reform-minded state superintendents, benefited the state Education Department in developing its waiver application. School districts also provided input.

“It is a determined effort to move away from drill work in a classroom just to be able to take a test to meet a magic, golden number and be judged on whether or not a school is a failure or successful based on that,” Barresi told The Oklahoman this week. “That doesn't serve children at all.”

State exams still will play a prominent role in categorizing schools based on academic performance. But instead of looking at the numbers of students who pass state math and reading exams, the school assessments will be based in part on how individual students improve over previous years.

For example, only half a school's math and reading score will be based on the overall test performance. Another 25 percent will be based on the growth of the lowest-performing 25 percent of students. And the remaining 25 percent of the score will be based on the growth of all students.

Oklahoma's new system would list schools in four categories. Three groups — priority, focus and targeted — would focus on low-performing schools. The reward category would honor schools that place in the top 10 percent in achievement or top 10 percent for academic progress.

The application includes the possibility of state takeover of low-performing schools. However, Barresi said that's already required under a 1998 state statue, which has never been used.

Assistant state superintendent Kerri White, who spearheaded the waiver application, is confident it will be approved by the U.S. Department of Education in January.

“I really believe that we have put forth a plan that is not only in line with the intent but with the letter of the flexibility option,” she said.

We hope so. The state's new accountability model would better serve students than NCLB's rigid requirements.

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