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State to seek waiver from federal No Child Left Behind law

By Mary Vorsino

LAST UPDATED: 3:55 p.m. HST, Oct 11, 2011

The state Department of Education will seek a waiver to key provisions of the No Child Left Behind law, which requires that schools meet rising annual proficiency goals or face increasing sanctions.

“Hawaii is taking another bold step forward to accelerate education reform, raise accountability, and ensure all students graduate college- and career-ready,” Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said in a news release.

The DOE will submit its application Feb. 15, after having discussions with schools, advocates and community members about an accountability system based on student growth.

If approved, the waiver would apply for this school year.

“The flexibility waiver is not a pass on accountability,” said Stephen Schatz, head of the DOE’s Office of Strategic Reform.

He added that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has “made it very clear that he’s looking for states to raise the bar on accountability and not try and decrease expectations.”

Last month, Duncan announced states would be allowed to be exempted from some of the law’s requirements if they meet certain conditions, such as enacting standards to prepare students for college and careers and demanding more accountability of teachers and principals.

The waiver program is being welcomed by many, who contend elements of the Bush-era NCLB initiative have been barriers to learning and that too many schools, even those showing modest progress, risk being labeled as failing.

This year, 62 percent of Hawaii’s 286 schools failed to meet NCLB benchmarks for student reading and math proficiency, up from 49 percent last year.

Schools that fail to meet adequate yearly progress benchmarks for consecutive years are subject to varying sanctions that include state intervention and replacement of staff.

Critics of NCLB say the law created too much emphasis on standardized tests. In particular, the requirement that all students be on grade level in math or reading by 2014 has been hugely unpopular.

For most Hawaii schools to meet AYP this year, 72 percent of students had to test proficient in reading, and 64 percent in math.

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