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No Child Left Behind: School districts react to state's waiver from federal requirements

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No Child Left Behind: School districts react to state's waiver from federal requirements
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Some school districts in the area are feeling relief that they no longer need to meet the 2014 goal of 100 percent proficiency.

President Barack Obama announced Thursday that Minnesota was among a list of states that are waived of the strict requirements of the No Child Left Behind law.

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For districts that receive Title I funding, dollars given based on the percentage of students who receive free- or reduced-priced meals, the waiver means they will be free of some of the consequences for not making Annual Yearly Progress.

As part of the No Child Left Behind requirements, districts that did not meet proficiency standards two years in a row were required to put aside a chunk of Title I dollars for extra teacher training.

Because Bemidji School District did not meet proficiency standards two years in a row, it was required to set aside 10 percent of its Title I dollars to pay for providing extra teacher training, according to Kathy Palm, the district's director of curriculum.

"That amounted to $140,000, a pretty significant amount," she said.

Now, with the waiver in place, she said the school district will not have to set aside that money.

"Now we can focus on serving kids," she said.

Palm said removing the 2014 goal of having 100 percent proficiency will also allow the school district to set more realistic goals.

"At least now we're striving for manageable goals," she said.

Cass Lake-Bena School District Superintendent Anita Grace said she doesn't expect the waiver will change the path the high school has been on to increase proficiency rates.

As part of the federal government's $34 million School Improvement Grants program, which was authorized under the No Child Left Behind Act, the district chose to follow one of four turnaround strategies prescribed by the U.S. Department of Education to receive grant funding.

As part of this plan, the district brought in educational consultants and developed a teacher evaluation system, according to Grace.

"Because we're involved with school improvement, we've already been doing a lot of the requirements that enabled the state to receive the waiver from No Child Left Behind," she said. "We have a research-based evaluation in place, as well as professional learning communities, and the consultants are working beyond the high school now."

Steve Wymore, superintendent of Red Lake School District, said the waiver will mean Ponemah Elementary and Red Lake High School will be designated by the Minnesota Department of Education as "focus schools" because they have been implementing school turnaround methods.

He expects the state Department of Education to be more prescriptive in helping some districts to improve student proficiency.

"We expect to continue working toward achieving higher standards and having effective school leadership," Wymore said.

Scott Anderson, director of Schoolcraft Learning Community, said he expects the waiver will have "pretty minimal impact" on the district.

"There are still the test scores and the paper-type approach that will still be a motivator at times for school districts," he said.

The waiver will allow the state to begin implementing its own accountability system for Minnesota schools and give school boards flexibility to implement education reforms to improve education.

Anderson said charter schools around the state are working toward defining what it means to be a quality school.

"Rather than legislators saying these are guidelines for a successful school, we would get to design our own schools," he said.

Anderson said Schoolcraft Learning Community has adopted "end policies," a list of goals students who attend the school from kindergarten through eighth grade are expected to meet.

"Rather than achieving test scores, these are skills we want students to have success in," he said.

For more details on Minnesota's granted federal waiver, visit http://education.state.mn.us.

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