I just returned from a meeting held by the South Carolina Department of Education seeking public feedback on a flexibility wavier request from requirements under the Education and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) otherwise known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). When it looked like many states would not meet the Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements that 100% of students meet educational goals because this is not a realistic number, the United States Department of Education allowed individual states to apply for waivers to seek relief from the punitive repercussions of not meeting upcoming AYP goals. It was stated by SCDOE presenters that this wavier request is not a permanent solution to NCLB problems, just temporary relief. Once the current version of ESEA, already about four years overdue, is revised and unauthorized by Congress and signed by the President (whoever that will be). The waivers need to meet conditions under four principles outlined by the USDOE for a wavier to be considered. Those principles are:
- College and Career Ready Expectations for All Students
- State-Developed Differentiated Recognition, Accountability, and Support
- Supporting Effective Instruction and Leadership
- Reducing Duplication and Unnecessary Burden
Here are my thoughts about what I saw tonight.
- Principle 1 College and Career Ready Expectations for All Students The biggest reason we educate our students is to prepare them to, hopefully, become productive members of society. This means students need to be ready to enter college, the work, or (I am adding) the military. This includes English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) or similar type students. South Carolina will also be adopting the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics. As with NCLB all students will be assessed yearly that may or may not be an adaptive test. The current PASS test given to students in grades 3-8 will have to change because they mainly measure what students have memorized. Common Core Standards are mainly geared around critical thinking and problem solving which PASS does not assess. All of this sounds good so far.
- Principle 2 State-Developed Differentiated Recognition, Accountability, and Support I am not going to go through all of the details but this is the meat of the wavier. Schools will be measured on student growth. The problem is that the growth is measured from year to year based on a annual assessment like PASS testing. I would rather see growth be measured from a pre assessment to post assessment. I thought it was funny when the SCDOE officials said they did not want to overburden students with assessments. Guess they have not heard our students are given Measure of Academic Progress assessments three times a year. Schools will be given a "report card" based on the following criteria for high schools: ELA Proficiency, Math Proficiency, Biology Proficiency, History Proficiency, ELA % Tested, Math % Tested, and graduation rate. For grades 3-8 it will be ELA Proficiency, Math Proficiency, Science Proficiency, Social Studies Proficiency, ELA% Tested, and Math% Tested. The normal subgroups are broken down with the addition of gender. To make AYP schools must have 90% in all categories. Schools that do not meet AYP may allow children to transfer to higher performing districts and must give other academic support to those students who do not make the growth cut. Schools that do not make AYP will be labeled either Focus or Priority schools depending on how much growth is needed. No school will be listed as failing. The biggest problem I have with this is what stake do students have in this testing? What is their incentive to do well? School pride? I think not.
- Principle 3 Supporting Effective Instruction and Leadership Probably the biggest thing I saw is that ADEPT will be five ADEPT Performance Standards and 19 Indicators. This is down from the four Domains, 10 APS's, and 34 Indicators. After that things get rather fuzzy. Since ADEPT will be streamlined are all teachers going to go through this evaluation process every year? Teachers will also be measured on the growth of their students as well. Nothing was said about how this will be used but it needs to be addressed. Will this become the tool to weed out the "bad teachers" whose students do not do well on the tests?
- Principle 4 Reducing Duplication and Unnecessary Burden Anything to make our lives better and easier I am all for!
The attempt by South Carolina to seek the ESEA flexibility waivers are commendable. If we must test then showing student growth is better than attempting to make some arbitrary line drawn. It also looks like there are attempts to ease the burdens of teachers which is a good sign. However, some of the glaring holes that are in NCLB are still there in this growth model but those are the federal government's making and not South Carolina's. This includes no student incentive to do well on these tests and taking into account the family situation a student comes from. One day we may have the technology to do ongoing assessments of students over the course of a year that gives a teacher the immediate feedback to help a child do their best academically. Also, we may have the tools to deal with all factors a child must go through when he or she enters the school everyday. For now, as my principal always tells us, we are being sent the best children each family has so we must do our best to cherish and see to their academic growth as best we possibly can.