Mississippi granted flexibility from education law

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi was granted flexibility from the national education law on Thursday.
The U.S. Department of Education granted seven new waivers to the No Child Left Behind law in exchange for state promises to make specific reforms.
That waiver will free states from the law’s requirement that all students must score at least proficient in reading and math on standardized tests by 2014, a standard that most schools in the nation appear destined to miss. Schools that fail to meet those goals face several penalties.
Between 50 and 66 percent of Mississippi’s third- to eighth-graders scored at least proficient on the various state tests taken in 2011, the last year for which data is available.
The USDE in September allowed states to apply for those waivers in exchange for plans to develop college and career-ready standards, reform their accountability systems and evaluate educators based on how well they grow student learning. Thus far, 32 states have received waivers.
“It does not waive the No Child Left Behind Act in totality,” said Mississippi Interim State Superintendent Lynn House. “It allows states the opportunity to seek flexibility around specific areas of the law.”
In Mississippi’s application, the state agreed to adopt a new system for evaluating teachers and principals that will use student test scores as a factor. The state already has developed a pilot for both evaluations. The principal one will go live in 2013, and the teacher one in 2014.
Mississippi pledged to offer more intensive support to its schools that rank in the bottom 5 percent of the state in test scores and graduation rates. It also agreed to offer support to the other schools in the bottom 10 percent and to those with significant shortfalls in those two areas.
The state will provide rewards to its top-performing schools. Those incentives are still being developed, House said, but they could include extra money.
“It will be a little different way of looking at things, but I think it is good for Mississippi,” said Lee County School District’s director of federal programs, Casey Dye.
Also granted waivers on Thursday were Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Oregon, South Carolina and the District of Columbia. The federal education law has been due for congressional reauthorization since 2007, but Congress has not yet approved it. In light of that, Obama’s administration announced states could apply for waivers.
Those waivers will be trumped by the new law if and when Congress passes one. However, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the reforms adopted by states will be in line with what a new law would likely require.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com