No Child Left Behind waivers may offer Pa. relief

Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently announced he would waive the No Child Left Behind requirement that 100 percent of the nation’s students be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

States with schools that meet the other performance measurements can apply for this waiver. Without the opportunity, Duncan anticipates as many as 80 percent of U.S. schools could fail to meet the benchmark.

Jim Buckheit, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association for School Administrators, welcomes the announcement.

“It’s been a request from the educational community across the country to provide relief given the unrealistic expectation that every student in the entire country would be proficient by the year 2014,” he said.

Buckheit said he hopes the state will take advantage of this waiver, which may also reduce the penalties against underperforming schools.

“Under the school improvement requirements of NCLB, school staff can be replaced, school principals fired, and the people that are on the ground trying to work with the students in need of assistance are being pushed and prodded in ways that are not productive for improving student achievement,” he said.

In Pennsylvania, the Adequate Yearly Progress numbers districts must meet reading and math targets, which increase every year by about 10 percentage points. In 2011, the targets were 67 percent in math and 72 percent in reading. The goal is 100 percent proficiency in both by 2014.

Andy Porter, dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, says that aim is unrealistic:

“The goal of 100 percent of schools proficient by 2014 is just not something schools are able to accomplish,” he said. “As the deadline approached, higher and higher percentages were failing.”

Critics say meeting the goals resulted in districts lowering their standards. Or, as was recently the case in districts across Pennsylvania, field test-score irregularities. Duncan’s announcement means states that continue to meet other performance measures can be granted waivers from achieving the 100 percent goal. Porter said it is a necessary step.

“I think the secretary has done just the right thing,” he said. “Had he not taken this move, we would be in an impossible situation of approaching 100 percent of the schools as failing and that doesn’t make any sense at all.”

Congressional Republicans argue this waiver could undermine their efforts when they reauthorize parts of the legislation.

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