A new decision from the Obama administration could mean Shawnee Mission East teachers will have more flexibility in the way they teach. The Department of Education is allowing states to get a waiver from the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. Shawnee Mission School District officials don’t know the details yet, but they believe the waivers might give them more options.
The Act, signed by President George W. Bush in 2002, focuses on all children in public schools. The law set a goal for all students to be proficient in math and reading by 2014. All states are required to administer standardized tests each year, which determines whether or not the school has made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). If a school fails to make AYP they are determined to be “in need of improvement.”
When the act was passed it changed the way teachers constructed their class.
“Before, [teachers] might have spent time looking at the intricacies of “Catcher in the Rye” and compare and contrast it to another novel, and look at characterization, plot similarities, and the authors motivation,” Assistant Principal John McKinney said. “Now we’ve got to get through so much curriculum to prepare for the state assessment. The targets are getting so high it’s going to take away even more time from other elements of teaching to make sure our students are ready for the test.”
The Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, calls the No Child Left Behind Act a “slow motion train wreck,” and believes that it is hurting efforts to improve schools in America. His proposal is to grant waivers to states that are able to show three things. First, states must be working to improve teacher effectiveness. Second, schools must focus more on helping high school students be college and career ready at graduation. Finally, schools with low-test scores need to change their programs.
Although teachers might get more flexibility after a waiver has been granted to their state, being considered for a waiver is much more difficult. Part of being authorized a waiver includes a rigorous teacher evaluation based on student test scores.
“There is a lot more to teacher effectiveness than just math and reading scores. It has a lot to do with building relationships with students, trust, growth, and determining whether or not students come out of the class a better person that they went in,” the Shawnee Mission School District Director of Assessment and Research, Daniel Gruman said.
“Under the current system, we need relief,” Gruman said, “as district and as a state. With AYP targets continuing to climb there is an increasing likelihood that good schools won’t make AYP.”
Shawnee Mission East District school board member, Donna Bysfield says that there are other problems with standardized testing, especially with students from a foreign country.
“One concern is with foreign students,” Bysfield. “They have just moved here, and if English is their second language, they’re expected to take a standardized test that first year and are expected not to fail it.”
Bysfield also says that Shawnee Mission looks at things other than just standardized test scores. “At Shawnee Mission, we look at the number of students taking honors classes and that are in the National Honors Society, and we factor that in more than just if [schools] are making AYP,” Bysfield said.
Not only is Shawnee Mission East meeting standards, it is exceeding them. Just recently it was released that East exceeded the AYP benchmark for the 2010-2011 school year. The annual target for NCLB reading is 86.0% and 96.2% of East students received the standard or higher. In math, 96.5% of East students met the standard or higher, surpassing the annual target of 82.3%.
“We are in a unique position where we don’t have the at-risk numbers that some other schools do and that our kids traditionally do well on the Kansas Assessment,” McKinney said. “Students at East take [The Kansas Assessment] seriously. We are fortunate to have kids who are committed to representing themselves and their school to the best of their ability.”
Bysfield, Gruman and McKinney are in favor of changing the act, but say it is too early to tell how much it will affect the Shawnee Mission School District.
More details about the reform will be available in September.