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Luna: Idaho near waiver from feds on education act

LEWISTON — Idaho is close to receiving a waiver under the No Child Left Behind Act, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna said, but will still be required to hold the bottom 15 percent of schools accountable under the law.

Luna’s report came at the end of the two-day State Board of Education meeting at Lewis-Clark State College on Wednesday and Thursday.

“The waiver is not a waiver away from accountability,” he explained. “What it actually does is it gives Idaho and other states an opportunity to move to a higher level of accountability.”

This means Idaho will no longer focus on how many students can pass a test, but will move toward a growth model in which the state is responsible for each student’s success, regardless of their proficiency, he said.

Luna sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last year expressing Idaho’s frustration that No Child Left Behind had not been reauthorized in four years and the state’s intention to move toward an accountability model based on student growth.

“The fact is that Idaho was moving in a different direction,” Luna said. “Subsequently, a number of other states joined that effort. I’m pleased that, in short order, the administration has come forward with a waiver policy and this week, Congress is taking up reauthorization of No Child Left Behind.”

To receive a waiver from the federal government, states must have a number of things in place, many of which already exist in Idaho due to the Students Come First legislation, Luna said.

At least a portion of teacher performance evaluations must be based on student achievement; incentives and rewards must be in place for schools and teachers; college credits must be expanded for all students; the use of technology must be expanded; data use must be expanded in classrooms; and parental input must be a part of teacher performance evaluation.

“Because of the laws we’ve passed last year, it puts Idaho in the right spot in order to quickly receive the opportunity to have an accountability system that is aligned to Idaho’s goals and what Idaho needs,” Luna said.

The entire package, however, is up for voter referendum in November 2012.

If Idaho receives a waiver, it will be required to focus on the lowest-performing 15 percent of schools and hold them to a level of accountability defined by the federal government, Luna said. The 15 percent will be broken down into 5 percent of Idaho’s consistently lowest-performing schools and 10 percent of schools that struggle with an ”achievement gap” (meaning there is a large gap in test results between different demographic groups).

The board will also have to decide on a system to differentiate between the other schools in the state, whether it be with a reward structure or something else, Luna said. Whatever system the board decides upon, it will need to be a balance between growth and proficiency, Luna said.

“We can’t just focus on growth, because if growth doesn’t eventually mean that a student is proficient, then we’ve missed our mark in our K-12 system,” he said.

Luna’s office will begin gathering information on Idaho’s new accountability model in December and give a presentation to the board for final approval in January. The state has until the first part of February to submit a waiver application to the U.S. Department of Education.

“I think it’s a very exciting opportunity to craft our own accountability plan,” Lunda said.

Board member Bill Goesling said he has been impressed at how far ahead Idaho is in the process than other states.

“Whatever change comes about, we’re in a position to be ahead of that,” he said. “We’re well on the way to being successful.”