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Utah to apply for relief from parts of No Child Left Behind

Published October 18, 2011 11:35 am

Education • State will seek waiver next year to get more flexibility under federal law.
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Utah education officials will apply for a No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver in hopes of getting relief from some of the most hated provisions of the federal schools law.

The State Office of Education submitted a letter of intent to the U.S. Department of Education late last week, saying Utah plans in February to formally apply for a waiver, meant to give states more flexibility under NCLB, said Judy Park, state associate superintendent.

If the waiver is granted, the state would no longer have to try to reach the law's goal that 100 percent of students test proficient in math and reading by 2014 — a requirement that many have criticized as unrealistic. Schools that serve large percentages of students from low-income homes also would likely no longer face sanctions — such as having to offer to bus students to other schools — for failing to meet goals for two consecutive years. The state also would get flexibility in other areas.

Some of the changes could be implemented as soon as next year if a waiver is granted.

In exchange for the waivers, however, states must come up with plans that address college and career readiness for all students, school accountability, teacher evaluation and administrative burdens on schools.

Utah is among 41 states that have submitted letters of intent, saying they plan to apply for the waivers, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The department is offering waivers in the absence of action from Congress to otherwise change the law. Many credit the law with forcing schools to focus more on data and minority students. But the law also has been heavily criticized for labeling schools as failing for not meeting any one of 40 goals, for having unreasonable expectations and for its focus on testing.

"With No Child Left Behind, all these schools are being designated as failing schools. They're not failing schools," Park said. She said the waivers would "eliminate some of the most egregious parts of No Child Left Behind."

Utah already received permission from the feds to not raise testing goals for this year under NCLB. But that permission is good for just one year and testing goals could continue to rise in the future if Utah doesn't receive the waiver. This year, more than one in five Utah schools failed to meet goals under NCLB.

Sara Jones, director of educational excellence and community outreach for the Utah Education Association (UEA), said the group supports Utah's intent to apply for a waiver.

"We definitely support the idea of being able to focus on helping struggling schools to receive more flexibility and to be able to provide, in the state, the kind of reforms we think are necessary to support school improvement," Jones said.

Jones said nationwide, states have been "frustrated with some of the provisions of the law, that there have been perhaps unintended consequences, and this will allow us, at this point, to create some more effective policies."

But Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, said she's wary of the waivers and the strings attached to them. Dayton has long pushed for Utah to opt out of NCLB, but the state never did, largely to avoid putting federal school funding at risk. Dayton said she'd still rather see Utah completely opt out of the law, which she said violates the Constitution.

"It's so disingenuous to say we're going to free up a few requirements here, and give you more requirements somewhere else," Dayton said of the waivers.

State officials have not determined how Utah specifically will address the requirements to get a waiver, Park said. Those requirements include adopting college and career readiness standards for students, and having a school accountability system that recognizes success and includes ways to improve achievement in Utah's lowest performing schools, which must be publicly identified. States also must support school instruction and leadership with teacher evaluations that measure performance in multiple ways, including data on student progress. And states must evaluate and revise what they require schools to report to them in an effort to lessen the burden on schools.

Schools would still have to test students at least annually.

Park said over the next few months, a committee of school board members, UEA representatives, PTA members, superintendents and others will meet to review the requirements and come up with a plan.

"This is going to be a pretty extensive process," Park said. "This committee will be meeting and looking at all of the details and making sure this will definitely be a good thing for Utah." —

More online

O Read about how No Child Left Behind waivers will work

> www.ed.gov/esea/flexibility






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