March 2012 Issue
February 17, 2012

New York to apply for NCLB waiver

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United

With a proposal to modify the state's accountability system, the Board of Regents agreed in February to apply for a federal waiver from the most restrictive elements of the No Child Left Behind law.

Recognizing the need to provide schools with more flexibility, President Obama invited states to apply for the waivers, while he and Congress negotiate reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that will eventually replace the Bush-era NCLB law.

In exchange for the flexibility, states must prove they are "showing the courage" to raise expectations in academic standards.

If the two-year federal waiver is approved, New York educators will need to learn a new lexicon governing the state's modified accountability system.

Say goodbye to "Schools in Need of Improvement" lists and the federal government's requirement that all students must be proficient by the 2013-14 school year.

Instead, educators can say hello to a new state accountability/intervention system, including "priority" and "focus" schools - plus a new "reward" category for high-performing and gap-closing schools.

Priority schools would be the bottom 5 percent of schools, or about 250 schools including the current persistently lowest achieving (PLA) schools. An estimated 70-100 districts would be identified as focus districts, meaning they need to develop specific plans and take dramatic steps to improve achievement for specific groups of students, such as students with disabilities or English language learners.

An unknown number of schools would be designated reward schools, based on two years of student achievement that places them in the top 20 percent of the state in terms of test scores, graduation statistics or gap-closing success.

Reward schools will be identified annually and will be able to compete for grants of up to $100,000 through federal Race to the Top funding. In addition, the reward schools may be able to apply for variances from certain commissioner's regulations.

For all three levels of schools, student performance will be measured using a growth model.

For accountability purposes, SED intends to set proficiency rates for high school Regents exams at the college- and career-readiness levels: 75 or above on the English Regents exam and a score of 80 or above on a math Regents exam. These proficiency rates would be for schools and districts; students would still pass the exams with a 65.

Research challenged

In a letter to SED, NYSUT questioned the research behind the new proficiency level for the Regents exams, noting the data from CUNY and anecdotal evidence from SUNY is not enough to justify a significant change in proficiency cut scores for accountability. NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira said this is a point the union will continue to challenge.

The waiver, if approved, would also give the state more flexibility with supplemental education services, or SES.

Instead of narrowly focusing funding on SES, targeted schools would be able to channel aid to other areas such as expanded learning time opportunites for students and increased parental involvement programs.

Last month, in a first round of waivers, the U.S. Department of Education approved 10 out of 11 applications. SED is hoping to begin the new accountability system in the upcoming school year.