Richmond County educators hopeful about Georgia's No Child Left Behind waiver request

Richmond hoping for waiver

As Georgia waits to see whether the federal government grants public schools a waiver from certain requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law, some Richmond County educators hope for relief.

Georgia is one of 11 states that applied for an exemption from select benchmarks, including a deadline to have 100 percent of students be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

If granted, the state will implement a College and Career Ready Performance Index instead, which will evaluate schools on a wider range of indicators, rather than solely the scores on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test.

“The positive part about this is it gives us a broader focus, and I think our district is anxious to see how that helps us,” said Carol Rountree, the executive director of student services.

Rather than just giving schools a pass or fail grade based on CRCT scores, the performance index would consider SAT and ACT scores, attendance and levels of preparedness for the next grade.

 

ROUNTREE SAID the index would enable schools to focus on preparing students for life after high school instead of obsessing over the performance on a test on a single day.

“When you think about it, when students exit our building, we want to think that they are armed with the tools that they need to be successful in life and not just say, ‘He now has a diploma,’” Rountree said. “When you think about it, a high school diploma is not marketable in the real-life economy, so what do you do with a high school diploma anymore? They need to prepare for postsecondary experiences.”

The index would examine several student indicators to judge their readiness to move to the next levels. For example, the index has two indicators for elementary students that focus on “career awareness.”

Rountree said that will encourage college-bound students to not just focus on subjects they enjoy and may want to major in, but what kind of career that major could lead to.

If the waiver is approved, schools would still be held to the same “adequate yearly progress” benchmarks as last year based on CRCT scores, so schools would not face the increased pass rate requirements that are scheduled for the 2011-12 school year.

Critics of the No Child Left Behind law have said it created unrealistic standards for schools to meet and unfair evaluations for subgroups of students such as special needs and minorities.

 

T. HARRY GARRETT Elementary School Principal Paula Kaminski said achieving the stringent federal benchmarks has been difficult for the district, especially because there is little acknowledgement for the role parental support should play in student progress.

“In the very beginning, when we first were on the (law), it was just so mind boggling to even think about 2014 and the way we would have to up our statistics on our test scores,” Kaminski said. “It’s not like we get a pass out of jail free card, it’s not like that. It doesn’t mean we don’t have the pressure still, but we hope what comes in its place will be a little bit more attainable.”

Georgia Department of Education spokesman Matt Cardoza said the federal government should deliver its decision on the waiver in January.

If approved, Georgia would receive exemption from the 2011-12 AYP benchmarks and consequences for schools classified as Needs Improvement. This year would also be a baseline for data to be used in the College and Career Ready Performance Index.

 

BY SHIFTING THE focus away from standardized test scores and toward goals after high school, Lucy C. Laney High School Principal Tonia Mason said many students would benefit in the long run.

She said a good quality of the index is that it emphasizes preparing students for work and the military, so students who aren’t college-bound are better prepared for post-high school careers. A negative, she said, is that along with the new indicators, schools will still be expected to meet AYP requirements.

“AYP, it has nothing to do with the student,” Mason said. “... (The state) makes it a one-size-fits-all for each school to make AYP. Why not let the schools or the districts determine those indexes?”

According to Georgia’s waiver application filed with the U.S. Department of Education, Georgia actually would not use the current AYP determinations after the 2012-13 school year. Instead, the state plans to fully transition into using the performance index by then.

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