Schools unsure of waiver’s effects

Published 8:53 pm Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The superintendent of Suffolk Public Schools says it is too early to predict which district schools will benefit after all Virginia schools were granted a waiver from No Child Left Behind benchmarks.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan approved the state Board of Education’s application to be exempted from certain provisions of the federal act Friday.

The waiver allows the state board to set annual benchmarks aimed at reducing the failure rate in reading and math by 50 percent within six years, according to a state board press release.

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“Virginia schools and school divisions can now focus their energy and resources on implementing the state Board of Education’s rigorous new content standards and assessments without contending with outdated and often counter-productive federal requirements and rules,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright said. “The commonwealth will continue to hold schools accountable for closing achievement gaps, but schools won’t be subject to a system of increasingly unrealistic annual objectives.”

Without the waiver, all students would have been required to meet grade-level proficiency in the subjects by 2014, for Title I schools to continue receiving funding through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.

Performance is also measured against subgroups based on categories such as race, economic status and disability. If even one subgroup misses one target, the school is denoted as having failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress benchmarks.

Eight of Suffolk’s 12 public elementary schools — Booker T. Washington, Creekside, Elephant’s Fork, Hillpoint, Kilby Shores, Mack Benn Jr., Nansemond Parkway and Southwestern — serve at least the minimum percentage of children from low-income families necessary to receive Title I funding.

Nansemond Parkway, Creekside, Mack Benn Jr. and Elephant’s Fork failed benchmarks for reading in the 2010-2011 school year.

“Without having the specific benchmarks and test results, it is really too early to suggest which schools will benefit from the waiver,” Superintendent Deran Whitney stated in an email. “I am encouraged by some of the changes and do think we will need to be very aware of how this will impact us.”

Under the waiver, Adequate Yearly Progress ratings will cease for Virginia schools, and performance information against the state board-set benchmarks will be reported in August.

The Virginia Department of Education will identify low-performing schools as “priority” and “focus” schools and high-performing schools as “reward” schools.

Focus schools will be selected according to three “proficiency gap groups,” with 10 percent of Virginia’s Title I schools becoming focus schools.

Priority and focus schools will have interventions, which already occur in schools that have failed to meet NCLB benchmarks.

Schools, however, will be free from so-called improvement sanctions mandated by NCLB.

While also hailing it as a “step in the right direction,” Board President David M. Foster branded the waiver, which includes various other provisions, as “more complicated than the Board of Education believes is necessary.”

According to Whitney, “While it does have many details it is hard to say, at this point, if it is more complicated than the original NCLB.”