Atwater: State should request NCLB waiver

Relief sought

Steve Atwater, Kenai Peninsula School District superintendent, said he would like to see Alaska join the list of states seeking relief from key provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act.

In an announcement last September, President Barack Obama offered states the opportunity to apply for a waiver that would free them from certain provisions of NCLB, most notably the 100 percent proficiency by 2014 clause.

"It's not practical," Atwater said of the 100 percent clause. "If you look at statistics, it's not going to happen where every child that takes a test in April of 2014 will be proficient."

States seeking the waiver are required to improve their education standards and have them approved by the federal government. To date, 11 states have been granted the waiver, while 28 more states and Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. have expressed their intent to seek flexibility from NCLB, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The next deadline for states to file for waivers is Feb. 28.  

"(The federal government) would want higher standards, the states would come up with their own accountability system, and they want the states to link teacher evaluations in some way with student data," said Eric Fry, Department of Education and Early Development information officer.

Fry said Alaska is already working on implementing higher standards for education -- the changes are not directly linked to the waiver process, but could help Alaska acquire a waiver if it chooses to apply for one.

"Our proposed new standards are probably high enough that the federal government would accept them as being good enough for a waiver," Fry said.

Atwater said a waiver would be beneficial because schools that improve, but do not meet Adequate Yearly Progress, a measuring tool of NCLB, would be recognized for their progress instead of being categorized as a failing school.

"The negative side (of NCLB), is that it caused schools that don't quite make it to be viewed as failing when in fact they may be doing quite well," Atwater said. "They've taken a big step forward, they just didn't make it over the bar."

Fry said part of the requirements of the waiver would be that the state would have to come up with a way of helping schools if they don't do well under the new system.

"If there's some school where many kids are under-performing year after year, there has to be some accountability, some way of improving that," he said.

Another part of the requirements is the state must find a way to link teacher evaluations with student test data, which can be a very complicated process, Fry said.

"You'll see that a lot of states have been wrestling with this," he said. "It's very complicated because we only give tests really in English and mathematics, but in the secondary level, people teach a lot of different subjects."

With most tests only coming in those two subjects, Fry said it would be difficult to formulate how art or chemistry teachers would be evaluated.
However, not all aspects of NCLB has been negative, Atwater said.

"The law caused a lot of attention cast on test scores and what's happened in response has been positive because we have a much more sophisticated level of looking at data than we have before," Atwater said.

In order for Alaska to be added to list of states that have been granted waivers, Fry said the Department of Education must first decide if the waiver should be applied for, then Gov. Parnell has to sign off on it and finally the state's requirements have to be approved by the federal government. Fry said the state is still reviewing their options and are not intending to file by the Feb. 28 deadline. If the state does decide to file in the future, Fry said any changes would not take place until the 2013-2014 school year.

Logan Tuttle can be reached at logan.tuttle@peninsulaclarion.com.

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