District backs state's No Child Left Behind plans

rheaton@beaufortgazette.comJanuary 1, 2012 

  • A meeting to gather feedback on S.C. Superintendent Mick Zais' plan for opting out of parts of the federal No Child Left Behind program is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at Bluffton High School. Twenty-one meetings have been planned across the state. The state's request to opt out must be submitted to the federal Department of Education by Feb. 21. The full proposal can be viewed online at http://ed.sc.gov/agency/lpa/ESEAFlexibility.cfm. Comments can be left online until Jan. 23.

The state's education superintendent is seeking a waiver from federal education rules that many educators, including those in Beaufort County, have objected to for years.

Beaufort County School District officials say they agree with some of the S.C. Department of Education's plan to achieve more flexibility under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

On Wednesday, school officials, along with residents, can voice their concerns at a meeting at Bluffton High School. It's one of 21 gatherings around the state called by Superintendent Mick Zais to hear comments on his plan, which includes financial bonuses for high-performing schools and merit pay for teachers.

The No Child Left Behind law calls for every student -- including disabled students -- to score "proficient" on standardized tests in math and English by 2014. Under the state education department's plan, this "all or nothing" component would be abandoned.

Currently schools and districts must meet all objectives annually to make "adequate yearly progress." Under the law, schools can make progress toward objectives but still not meet AYP, meaning they could face sanctions even though they are improving.

Getting a waiver would change that. Instead, schools and districts would be given credit for making progress on standardized tests.

"You're not going to be labeled failing if you only make 26 or 27 out of 33 goals," state Department of Education spokesman Jay Ragley said. "The system does away with the all-or-nothing aspect" of adequate yearly progress.

"The all-or-nothing provision of the law has been ridiculous from day one," said Valerie Truesdale, Beaufort County schools superintendent.

Beaufort County school board Chairman Fred Washington Jr. supports that change.

"Continuous growth, continuous improvement is one of the things we've been emphasizing," he said.

Truesdale said the district has been making progress toward meeting the objectives every year, but that "pretty amazing growth" hasn't been recognized because it is still falling short in a few areas.

Schools also have to contend with a benchmark that's rising each year.

The district as a whole met 31 of 33 goals in 2011, up from 27 of 33 in 2009. The only areas in which it fell short were in math and English among disabled students.

But the number of schools meeting the goal dropped by about half, with only seven of the 31 schools in the district meeting AYP in 2011. That's because a key benchmark for success was raised by about 20 percentage points, school officials say.

Under the Zais' plan, schools and districts would be given letter grades -- A, B, C, D or F -- based on their test scores, graduation rates and several other factors. Improvement in each of these areas and other categories would be recognized.

Title I schools -- those with high percentages of students on free and reduced-cost lunch -- would be given special attention under the plan.

Those consistently scoring poorly compared to other schools in the state would be subject to intervention and improvement plans crafted by the S.C. Education Department's Office of School Transformation.

Title 1 schools consistently doing well compared to other schools in the state would receive bonuses. Six Title I schools every year would receive $5,000. The two top Title I schools would receive $10,000.

Under the plan, teachers would be evaluated on how much their students progress each year.

Ragley said the measure would be about "value-added growth." For example, if a student is two grade levels behind in reading and advances a grade level the next year, that would be considered growth, even though the student is still technically behind.In other words, teachers would not be penalized if their students are showing some progress.

Ragley said the student evaluations also would be used when deciding whether to retain teachers.

"It should be pretty clear, if they are rated ineffective, whose contract should not be renewed," Ragley said. "It does become a decision about employment, because we want more effective teachers."

Washington said changes need to be made in how teachers are evaluated, but he's concerned about too much emphasis being placed on student growth in those evaluations.

"Teachers are not the only ones that contribute to the success of a child in a school," Washington said. Principals, guidance counselors, media specialists and others also contribute to a child's growth, he said. And it's crucial that the child's home environment emphasize and foster academic achievement, he said.

Washington said he plans to have the full school board review the plan and submit feedback to the state.

Related content:

The S.C. Department of Education's Elementary and Secondary Schools Act flexibility request


A presentation from the S.C. Department of Education on its Elementary and Secondary Schools Act flexibility request


Submit comments on the Elementary and Secondary Schools Act flexibility request online


Information on the process of requesting flexibility from requirements of the No Child Left Behind law


Benchmark change halves schools showing 'yearly progress'; July 29,1011


Beaufort County schools jump up in federal testing requirements; Jan. 21, 2010


Keywords: No Child Left Behind, Mick Zais, Valerie Truesdale, Fred Washington Jr., Beaufort County School District, Elementary and Secondary Schools Act, S.C. Department of Education, flexibility request, No Child Left Behind waiver

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