Citing a lack of action on the part of Congress to reauthorize and reform No Child Left Behind Act, the Obama administration announced earlier this week that it will now provide a process for states to seek a waiver that will allow for exemptions from key provisions of the federal education law.
And it appears that if Connecticut's Department of Education does decide to pursue that waiver, it would have the support of many local level school administrators.
Greg Florio, superintendent of the Cheshire Public School District, said he was not surprised to see the federal government move forward to provide states with some kind of flexibility in meeting NCLB requirements.
"I think that they are coming to the realization that it's just an unrealistic goal," Florio said, noting that according to the act, by 2014 every public school student across the country will be required to test at their state goal level for proficiency in reading and math.
"If that was the case, then just about every school in the state of Connecticut will be seen as not making AYP (Annual Yearly Progress), and having to deal with the ramifications of that," he said.
Florio said while standardized testing and measurements are important, it is not the most important piece in the academic achievement puzzle.
"Individual student growth is more important than some artificial target," he said.
Since the law was first enacted in 2002, NCLB has been the frequent target of criticism from educators who have complained about its so-called "one-size-fits-all" approach of student assessment through standardized testing.
In addition, state and local officials have also protested the monetary costs associated with meeting NCLB's testing standards and requirements.
And the Nutmeg State has been one of the law's most vocal, and litigious, critics.
In August 2005, Connecticut was the first state in the country to legally challenge the NCLB law. The lawsuit demanded that the federal government either revise its testing requirements or pass along additional funding to cover the expense of meeting its mandates.
After a federal judge and 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled against the state's challenge, however, the United States Supreme Court in February declined to put the Connecticut case on its upcoming docket of hearings.
The CAPT, which is taken each fall by the state’s 10th-grade students, assesses academic progress in the content areas of mathematics, science, reading across the disciplines and writing across the disciplines.
The CMT is administered annually to all of the state’s students in grades three to eight. It tests competency in the core academic areas of mathematics, reading and writing. The state’s fifth- and eighth-graders are also tested in science.
There are five levels of student performance: below basic, basic, proficient, goal and advanced.
The percentage of students scoring at or above the proficient level on the two tests is used to identify schools and districts that are making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under the federal No Child Left Behind legislation.
If a school or subgroup within a school does not achieve annual yearly progress in the same content area for two consecutive years, the school is identified as “in need of improvement.” These districts and schools must work with the state to develop and implement a two-year improvement plan.
If the school's students continue to struggle, additional penalties and sanctions are placed upon the district — including the potential loss of funding — and parents are given the option to place their child in another school.
Private schools are not required by the federal Department of Education to meet its NCLB annual yearly progress goals.
The administration's proposal for revising NCLB calls for "college- and career-ready standards, more great teachers and principals, robust use of data, and a more flexible and targeted accountability system based on measuring annual student growth."
In the meantime, United States Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Monday the specifics of the NCLB waiver package will be made public in September.
And the flexibility waivers — the possibility of which were announced in June — are expected to begin having an impact by the end of the upcoming 2011-2012 school year, and then fully implemented by the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year.
Duncan said the states that are granted waivers, however, will not be receiving a "pass on accountability."
"There will be a high bar for states seeking flexibility within the law, working off a framework that the states themselves have put together with the Council of Chief State School Officers," Duncan said in a blog post on Monday.
He added that over the last few days he had spoken to more than half of the nation's governors who "are pushing us to provide the relief they desperately need and want."
"There is no magic bullet for fixing education, and the best ideas will always come from the local level, where hardworking men and women in our schools are doing the hard work every day to educate our children," he said.
Although Connecticut Department of Education officials did not immediately return Patch's request for comments on the federal waiver plan, in press reports from earlier this week department spokesman Mark Linabury said the state is in the information gathering stage in order to make a decision about whether or not to apply for relief from the law.
John Brady, superintendent of schools for the Amity Region 5 School District, said although there would be little, if any, affect on the day-to-day classroom life of his district's students if Connecticut did receive relief from the law — the district's schools have a very high proficiency rate — he would still support the state applying for a waiver.
"I think that when Congress originally passed the No Child Left Behind law, there was a recognition that not 100 percent of students in this nation — this very diverse nation — could reach proficiency by 2014," Brady said. "But they knew there would be subsequent reauthorizations and anticipated that there would be modifications to that. There are some students that, simply because of disabilities or other factors, are incapable of meeting the standards."
Frances Rabinowitz, superintendent of schools for the Hamden Public School District, said she would also endorse a waiver for "the NCLB proficiency standard."
"I would strongly recommend a cohort growth measure, same students over time, as an accountability measure for districts and schools," Rabinowitz said.
"The waiver that Mr. Duncan is proposing, however, comes with many strings attached, which is a disappointment," she said.
Still, local school administrators said the waiver is a welcome step in the process of reauthorizing and improving NCLB legislation.
"I think the law, when it's reauthorized, it needs to be amended. And until that time, since nothing seems to be able to happen in Washington these days — the reauthorization was supposed to take place this year — I think that that is why they are proving a waiver opportunity," Brady said.