When representatives from the S.C. Department of Education presented their plan to seek a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law to Beaufort County residents Wednesday, they were met with questions on the details, but no outright opposition.
State officials presented the draft waiver request, outlining the requirements set by the federal Department of Education and the state's plan to meet those requirements. About 20 people gathered at Bluffton High School to hear the plan.
The No Child Left Behind Law calls for every student to score "proficient" on standardized tests in math and English by 2014.
Schools and districts must meet all objectives annually to make "adequate yearly progress."
Schools that don't meet all the objectives could face sanctions even if they show progress from year to year.
Under the state's plan, this "all or nothing" component would be eliminated. Schools would be given letter grades -- A, B, C, D or F -- based on their progress toward annual goals in all demographic groups of students.
Those grades would be based on more than just English and math test scores. The state plan also incorporates science and history test scores and graduation rates.
Beaufort County School District spokesman Jim Foster said the district supports removing the "all or nothing" requirement. That component has meant Beaufort County schools meeting all but one of 20 or 30 objectives, such as Beaufort and Pritchardville elementary schools last year, have been considered "failing" to meet adequate yearly progress.
Another component of the waiver request will change the process used to evaluate teachers and principals.
The new process focuses on student growth -- teachers and principals will be evaluated on their ability to improve students' knowledge and understanding each year.
Former school board member Joan Deery asked if student growth would be measured by the Measures of Academic Progress tests that Beaufort County students take twice per year. MAP tests are not state assessments.
Nancy Busbee, one of the state officials, said that new assessments -- ones that align with the Common Core Standards the state adopted and is in the process of implementing -- will be in place by the 2014-15 school year and will be used to measure growth.
"Measuring student growth and doing it right is time-consuming," Busbee said. "We can't do it with the tests we have now because they were not developed for that purpose."
A public comment period on the state's plan is open through Jan. 23. The state has scheduled 21 meetings across South Carolina to gather more public input.
Hilton Head Island resident Larry Meyers wished there had been more public input before the waiver plan was drafted.
Meyers, who has sat on Hilton Head Island Middle School's school improvement council, asked why the waiver plan hadn't beenvetted by such councils.
Jay Ragley, a spokesman for the S.C. Department of Education, said the department doesn't keep a list of SIC members, but that representatives from the state school improvement council had been invited to take part.
Teachers and other education officials have also been involved in drafting the waiver, he said
Ragley said cutting off the public comment period about a month before the deadline to submit the waiver to federal officials allows the state department to make changes based on public feedback.
The full plan is available online on the S.C. Department of Education's website, ed.sc.gov. Comments can be left online.
There will also be a virtual meeting to outline the plan and answer any questions on the department's website from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.
The state will submit the plan to federal officials by Feb. 21.
Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.