NB supt. explains NCLB waiver for MN

By MaryHelen Swanson—

Minnesota schools received an announcement last week that will change the way school districts work to reduce the achievement gap.

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law is no longer in effect in this state, as Minnesota has received a waiver from the federal government.

Last Thursday, North Branch schools Superintendent Dr. Deb Henton opened her school board report with a brief summary of what it means for Minnesota and North Branch schools.

Essentially, she said, it means that Minnesota can do things that maybe other states cannot.

Under NCLB there were many ways a school district didn’t make Annual Yearly Progress (AYP). There were a lot of different categories a district was measured by and students were given tests, in our case, Minnesota Comprehensive test.

The district will still give these tests, a similar one at least, she noted,

Results of those tests compared how Minnesota kids were doing, measured against one another.

But there were a lot of ways a district could fail, she went on, it was a very punitive system.

Under NCLB by 2014 all students, regardless of disability, with very few exceptions, had to be 100 percent proficient.

That was the largest complaint, she noted, that it set an unrealistic high bar.

Another complaint was that it generated much more testing and teachers had to focus on the testing, some would say to the detriment of education.

New system in place

Now a new system will be put in place in Minnesota as approved as part of this federal waiver.

Schools will still be measured on proficiency.

And they’ll still have to make sure all subgroups meet proficiency.

Henton went on saying Minnesota will still look at growth and there will be growth indicators beyond MCA tests. But she’s not sure how those will be put into place.

School districts will have to look at how they’re doing closing the achievement gap.

Tragically, she pointed out, Minnesota has trouble closing the achievement gap.

In fact, depending on which measures are looked at, she said, it could be second lowest in the nation for proficiency in certain groups and that will be addressed with the new system.

And there will be special attention paid to the graduation rate.

Points

School districts will be assigned points based on those measures and a system will be developed where there will be different kind of rankings of schools, she explained.

The top 15 percent of Title I schools in the state will be “reward” schools and will be identified annually.

Schools in the 10 percent range will be “focus” schools, and will be carefully looked at and receive additional attention, and consistently low performing schools, 5 percent, will be “priority” schools and will receive additional support from the department of education.

Dr. Henton couldn’t say how this would affect how NB compares all learners for success in school, but she expects more details to be forthcoming.

Sen. Al Franken sent this statement to the Post Review last week upon learning of the waiver:

“No Child Left Behind simply isn’t working, and it’s clear we need to completely reform the legislation. We made good progress in the Senate this fall towards overhauling NCLB, and I remain committed to ensuring that process moves forward.  But until reform legislation is approved by Congress, this waiver will eliminate some of the most arbitrary measures of the current law that have burdened schools throughout Minnesota.  Far too many schools all over our state have been unfairly sanctioned under the current one-size-fits-all model, and I’m pleased that the Obama Administration recognized that giving Minnesota some flexibility is the best way to serve our students.”

Education Minnesota responded on Thursday to the announcement also:

“This is good news for Minnesota because we will no longer label our schools as failures based on the misguided criteria of No Child Left Behind,” said Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher. “Instead we will switch to more realistic assessments based on multiple measures.”

“The waiver sets out a new and ambitious goal to reduce the achievement gap by half within six years, which we support,” Dooher said.

“However, we’re concerned that goal won’t be reached without serious new investments in public education, including for early childhood education, smaller class sizes and wrap-around services in our schools.”

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