United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan granted Virginia a waiver from certain provisions of No Child Left Behind on Friday.
In her announcement, Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright called No Child Left Behind’s (NCLB) benchmarks in reading and mathematics “arbitrary and unrealistic.” Virginia’s new plan will exempt its schools from having to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) objectives that increased annually, with the goal of having 100 percent of students reach grade-level proficiency by 2014.
The state Board of Education now must establish “challenging but attainable” goals for increasing overall student achievement and the achievement of students in demographic subgroups, which break out student data by race, socioeconomic class, disabilities and English language proficiency. Virginia’s new annual benchmarks will aim to reduce the failure rate in reading and math by 50 percent – overall and in each subgroup – within six years.
The state will continue to report annual school accreditation ratings in September, based on overall achievement in English, math, science, history and high school graduation and completion. The accreditation ratings have been in place since Virginia began its Standards of Learning (SOL) program in 1999.
Individual school divisions and school will no longer receive AYP ratings, however. Instead, information about whether school have or have not met new federal benchmarks will be reported separately in August. VDOE will also report on low-performing schools identified as “priority” and “focus” schools and recognize high-performing Title I schools as “reward” schools.
Priority schools will be identified based on overall student achievement, including graduation rates for high schools. The number of priority schools will be equivalent to five percent of the commonwealth’s Title I schools.
Focus schools will be identified based on the academic achievement of students in three “proficiency gap groups” that have historically struggled to meet achievement standards in the state. The groups are:
• Proficiency Gap Group 1: Students with disabilities, English language learners and economically disadvantaged students, regardless of race and ethnicity.
• Proficiency Gap Group 2: African-American students, not of Hispanic origin, including those also counted in group 1.
• Proficiency Gap Group 3: Hispanic students, of one or more races, including those counted in group 1.
Both priority and focus schools will be subject to state-approved and monitored school-improvement interventions. Priority schools will have to hire a state-approved turnaround partner to help implement a school-improvement plan that meets state and federal requirements. Focus schools will have to employ a state-approved coach to help the division develop, implement and monitor intervention strategies to improve the performance of students at risk of not meeting achievement standards or dropping out of school.
Priority and focus schools will not be subject to previous NCLB “improvement” sanctions, such as public school choice, which D.J. Montague Elementary School had to offer in 2010 and 2011 due to past AYP performance.
“This new federal accountability model is more complicated than the Board of Education believes is necessary, but it is definitely a step in the right direction,” said Board President David Foster. “Looking ahead, it is my hope that Congress will at last revise NCLB and allow Virginia to attack achievement gaps within the context of the SOL program, free from unwarranted and intrusive federal rules.”
All public schools will have to implement improvement plans to raise subgroup achievement. The waiver also requires school divisions to implement the Board of Education-approved performance and evaluation standards for teachers and principals; both Williamsburg-James City County and York County schools will be using new evaluation standards this fall. Forty percent of teacher and principal evaluations will be based on student academic progress.
School divisions determined to be unprepared to implement the new standards this year must prepare a corrective action plan describing how the standards will be implemented by the start of the 2013-14 school year.
Virginia’s Board of Education first submitted a waiver application to the Department of Education on Feb. 27. USED reviewed the application, then requested the state board establish annual benchmarks for increasing overall student achievement and achievement in subgroups. Virginia submitted the revised waiver application in late May.