State to seek waiver from 'No Child' law

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

The Mississippi Department of Education will begin compiling a plan to seek a waiver from some requirements of the nation’s education law.
The state Board of Education on Friday granted the MDE permission to study applying for relief from No Child Left Behind, the national law passed in 2001 that requires students reach certain targets on standardized tests.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced Sept. 23 that the federal Department of Education would allow states to request waivers from certain requirements of that law.
Among its mandates, 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.
Although Mississippi students have improved on state tests, just between 50 and 66 percent of third- to eighth-graders managed to score at least proficient on this year’s tests.
“What happened in No Child Left Behind is that they set some goals that ended up being unrealistic,” said Claude Hartley of Tupelo, a member of the state Board of Education. “We are not talking about unrealistic for Mississippi, we are talking about nationwide.”
Forty-one states have notified the USDE that they intend to seek a waiver. There is no limit on how many states will receive one, but applications will not automatically be accepted.
To qualify, states must develop college and career-ready standards, reform their accountability systems, evaluate educators based on how well they grow student learning and reduce burdensome reporting and administrative requirements.
By getting permission from the state board, Mississippi will proceed with its application. Representatives from the MDE will meet with stakeholder groups across the state to get input about how it will proceed.
Mississippi already meets some of the criteria by incorporating the Common Core State Standards into its curriculum. The Common Core, which most states have agreed to adopt, was built to better prepare students for college and careers.
The state also is looking at revamping educator evaluations. It will study possible changes to the way it evaluates schools and districts.
“The state will have more flexibility in how to use federal funds,” said Wendy Polk, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Education. “It will not be a lowering of our standards but will give us more flexibility in how we improve student achievement.”
States must apply by Nov. 14 to receive an answer by the end of the year. They can also apply in February and receive an answer by spring.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com