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Idaho wins NCLB waiver, approval to use 5-Star school assessment system instead of ‘adequate yearly progress’

Idaho's request for a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Law's measuring standards for school success has been granted by the U.S. Department of Education. The state plans instead to use a new “Five-Star Rating System” to judge school success, rather than the NCLB law's “adequate yearly progress” standard, which is based on how many of the school's students, including those in various subgroups, score as proficient on tests; under the federal law, schools that repeatedly fail to meet that standard face sanctions, including lost funding, and can be labeled as failures.

Idaho's new five-star standard weighs proficiency, academic growth, and measures of readiness for post-secondary education or careers. Idaho used the standard last school year, and more than half of the state's schools achieved a four-star or five-star rating, while just 15 percent earned one or two stars. A quarter fell in the middle, with three stars. Under the NCLB standard, for the same  year, just 60 percent of Idaho's schools made AYP, meaning 40 percent were labeled as potential failures.

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna hailed the approval, which still needs a final OK from the state Board of Education at its meeting this week in Lewiston. “We will use this data to recognize our excellent schools and provide intensive technical assistance to schools that are struggling,” Luna said. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak; click here to read the full announcement from the state Department of Education.


By TODD DVORAK, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho ― The U.S. Department of Education has finally granted Idaho's schools a waiver from some of the most onerous requirements and benchmarks spelled out in the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna cheered the decision Wednesday, saying the state can now use its own system to more accurately measure student achievement and recognize schools that are performing well or struggling.

In granting Idaho the waiver, federal education officials also signed off on Luna's new accountability system that uses a variety of measures to gauge student achievement, including academic growth.

“This is a great day for Idaho students, Idaho schools and Idaho teachers,” Luna said. “Our previous accountability system was put in place when Idaho's seniors were in second grade. It is a decade old and must be updated to more accurately measure student achievement now and in the future.”

Idaho was among the first states to push for more flexibility under No Child Left Behind, but has waited longer than most to have its new blueprint for measuring accountability approved, and ultimately freed from the federal education law.

A year ago, the Obama administration and Education Secretary Arne Duncan warmed to the idea of freeing states from some of the law's provisions, bringing a level of creativity in states to education reform. No Child Left Behind, approved in 2001, required that states could only measure how well a school was performing based on proficiency in testing. These rankings were announced as Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP scores. The law also required all students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

The challenge for Luna and his staff came in getting federal officials to sign off on their hand-crafted alternative to measuring achievement for students and school progress.

The plan approved by Duncan and his staff is known as the Five-Star Rating System, which Luna contends is underpinned by higher standards, academic growth and improved performance evaluations for educators.

Idaho began using the new system to measure performance during the 2011-12 academic year. Results show more than half of Idaho's schools achieved a four-star or five-star rating, while 99 schools earned one or two stars.

The state's new accountability plan must still earn final approval from the Idaho State Board of Education, which meets in Lewiston this week.

Nationwide, more than 30 states already have been freed from No Child Left Behind requirements, while about a dozen states have yet to apply for a waiver.
  


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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