The NCLB Waiver...What Does It Mean for Us??

Friday, March 02, 2012 0 Comments A + a -

Last month it was announced by the US Department of Education that Massachusetts, along with nine other states, has been granted a waiver from certain provisions of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). This 2001 landmark federal law has been criticized by some for its “one size fits all” approach to school accountability. Under NCLB all public schools and districts must meet the same prescribed targets for student proficiency in annual MCAS testing in English language arts and mathematics. These targets, known as “adequate yearly progress” or AYP, have progressively become more difficult to achieve since 2002 as the goal of NCLB is 100% proficiency by all students by the year 2014.

NCLB requires schools to meet the AYP targets for not only the aggregate of the tested student population but also for each of the major subgroups, i.e., students of various racial/ethnic groups, students with disabilities, low-income students, and English language learners. The statistically significant subgroups in the MURSD are students with disabilities and low-income students. As the years have progressed, our schools have met the AYP targets for the aggregate performance; however, have fallen short on the special education subgroup recently. Keep in mind that the AYP targets are the same as the targets for each of the subgroups.

Concomitantly, the closer we have gotten to 2014, the more challenging the AYP targets have become. For example, for 2011 the state’s CPI (composite performance index) target for ELA and mathematics MCAS were 95.1 and 92.2, respectively. These figures equate to approximately 85-90% of all students and all students in each subgroup scoring proficient or better on each of the tests. This is challenging work and these targets just may be too far reaching given the amount of time since NCLB was enacted. This sentiment is verified by the fact that 82% of all schools and 91% of all districts across the Commonwealth did not meet their AYP targets in 2011. (In the MURSD, only Nipmuc achieved AYP in 2011.)

So is NCLB’s punitive system of labeling schools as “failing” based upon meeting these targets fair? Or even realistic? In my opinion, the answer is no.

Under this new waiver schools will be classified by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education individually rather than using absolute AYP targets. The classifications will look at how many students in the aggregate achieved proficiency, how many students actually improved their performance from year to year (using SGP or Student Growth Percentiles), and how much the achievement gap between the aggregate and various subgroups has been closed. The new classifications for ach school and district will be one of the following:

Level 1 On track to college and career readiness
Level 2 Not meeting gap closing goals
Level 3 Focus: Lowest performing 20% of schools (including schools with the largest gaps)
Level 4 Priority: Lowest performing schools
Level 5 Priority: Chronically underperforming schools

Over the coming months we will receive more details, as these changes will be implemented starting during the 2012-13 school year. While our goal in the MURSD will remain proficiency for ALL students, this new accountability system that judges schools based upon student growth and progress in closing gaps in performance is certainly welcome news.