State says ‘No Child Left Behind’ waiver gives schools flexibility -- Gazette.Net







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Maryland no longer is required to have all students proficient in reading and math by 2014, as a result of a waiver announced Tuesday that frees the state from stricter standards of the 2001 federal No Child Left Behind legislation.

Instead, the Maryland State Department of Education will adjust annual progress goals to halve, by 2017, the percentage of students at each school that are not proficient in math and reading, according to the state’s waiver application.

A school where 80 percent of students in 2011 were proficient in math, for example, would be required to increase its proficiency percentage to 90 percent by 2017.

Maryland joins 18 other states whose individualized plans for ensuring accountability and academic rigor have been accepted by the U.S. Department of Education, which has granted the states flexibility from meeting “hard and fast” federal requirements, said Mary Gable, Maryland’s assistant state superintendent for academic policy.

“Now we’re looking at schools being able to be recognized for the progress [they are] making,” Gable said. Although Maryland always has been about accountability, Gable added, “we’re going to be more directed to what the schools need to do.”

The state and local education systems will be able to measure progress at each school from year to year instead of comparing the school to others with different demographics and in different locations, said MSDE spokesman William Reinhard.

“We need to change the conversation,” Reinhard said. “We need to focus on the areas where schools are having difficulties. This waiver process allows us to really focus attention on the lowest-performing schools.”

MSDE data show math proficiency falls as students move from fifth to eighth grades, and students with limited English proficiency or those who qualify for free or reduced-price meals tend to perform far below their peers.

The waiver gives Maryland school systems more flexibility in setting and meeting student achievement goals, but maintains a high level of accountability, said A. Duane Arbogast, the chief academic officer for the Prince George’s County school system.

School systems and individual schools will emphasize closing gaps in achievement between the highest- and lowest-performing sub-populations, such as black, Hispanic and special-education students and those with limited English proficiency, he said.

“It’s just changing the focus to the achievement gap and college and career readiness,” Arbogast said.

Waiver or not, Montgomery County Public Schools will continue to focus on closing achievement gaps between different demographic groups of students, said Superintendent Joshua P. Starr.

“It will in no way, shape or form change the way we think about the achievement gap,” he said. “That still exists, even if you change the metrics.”

The state also included in its waiver application a plan to close at least half of the gap between 2011 graduation rates and the 95 percent mark by 2020.

Much of the state’s plan is based in its adoption — along with 44 other states — of the national Common Core State Standards and in its outline for using federal dollars from Race to the Top grants, Gable said.

A waiver gives each state increased flexibility in how it uses federal Title I funds, according to a representative of the U.S. Department of Education. The Title I money is allotted to school systems based on the percentage of students from low-income families and is used to support additional teachers, purchase instructional materials or organize educational programming.

Maryland received more than $175 million in Title I funding in fiscal 2011, Reinhard said.

“What No Child Left Behind did is it really changed the landscape on how we looked at students,” Gable said. “[The waiver] is supporting and moving us forward in ensuring our schools are getting students ready.”

Maryland’s plan will be implemented in the 2013-2014 school year.