The Harbinger Online

No Child Left Behind State Waivers Offer New Avenues For Learning Assessment

Starting in August 2015, every student at East will be required to take Geometry some point in their high school career. It doesn’t matter if interior angles and deductive reasoning are beyond the student’s intellect–they will take it. Special education students will be forced to enroll in this class alongside classmates that are more advanced in Math.

This change in policy is part of the No Child Left Behind waiver that Kansas applied for on Feb. 27. Although this is not of one of the main policies of this waiver, this specific policy points to the fact that this new plan is not a complete solution to the NCLB problem. In the past, NCLB attempted to rate schools based on whether they met their Adequate Yearly Progress standards (AYPs) through standardized testing. By 2014 all schools were expected to have 100 percent of their students passing these standardized tests. In trying to reach these yearly benchmarks, many teachers, schools and districts have fallen short.

In attempts to fix this faulty system, a four part plan was created and a waiver was drafted. This waiver outlines the new organization and standards that must be met. According to Kansas State Department of Education’s communications representative, Kathy Toelkes, the most important of these four parts is a new way of evaluating student achievement. Instead of focusing on passing tests, meeting standards and looking only at data, this new plan focuses on student growth.

“A phrase you are going to hear is ‘how much growth is being demonstrated by a student from August through May?’” SMSD district coordinator, Dr. Richard Cain said. “This is going to continue to be a more fair way of analyzing how much student learning is occurring.”

According to  Principal Karl  Krawitz, this new system has some major upsides and downsides.

“I can live with it a little more because showing improvement means I can show that you have improved year to year and I don’t have to compare you to other students,” Dr. Krawitz said. “The problem is that somebody is going to try to quantify this improvement. Once that happens, that rigid aspect comes back into play and then the whole purpose goes away.”

According to Dr. Krawitz, the ‘rigid aspect’ seems to be ingrained in the fabric of education. Despite attempts to discover a new method, it still remains present in the fact that the education system lumps diverse students into the same category. In addition to requirement for students to take certain classes, they are all required to take the same state assessments. Special education students are required to take the Kansas Assessment with Modifications (KAM), which is a shortened version, but still has the same content.

“Everything is so focused on everyone being a part of this general curriculum and being assessed on this curriculum,” special education teacher, Maureen Johnson, said. “I think it negatively affects the students.”

However, state education officials are optimistic that this new waiver will bring about great change in the academic realm. One of the main advantages they see is the future abolishment of AYP standards. During the next academic year, the AYP target standards will stay the same from the previous year and the year after that, 2013, the AYP standards will be eliminated a new system of evaluations will be put in place.

“The requirements for 100 percent proficiency by 2014 was very unrealistic in the minds of many people,” Kansas Department of Education’s communications representative, Kathy Toelkes said. “What is really beneficial about the ability to seek this flexibility is that it allows us to be flexible in our accountability system and to look at really what makes sense for our state.”

However, Dr. Krawitz sees these changes that this waiver brings as being bandages for a deeper wound.

“It seems like in education we start a lot of things and don’t finish them,” Krawitz said. “Policies go out of favor every few years and the next novelty thing comes in and gets everybody going and jumping around.”

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