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Friday, August 31, 2012

State would focus on college, career readiness under NCLB waiver

CONCORD – New Hampshire students may soon be less focused on standardized tests and more focused on ensuring they are college and career ready if the state’s waiver of No Child Left Behind is approved.

The state’s plans under such a waiver would include bringing all graduating students to college and career readiness by 2017.

It’s a goal that education officials say will require a “networked system” of collaboration between teachers, education leaders and communities, and one that supports and personalizes education rather than punishing and standardizing it.

The state Department of Education released a draft copy of its waiver application Thursday, about six months after announcing the state would not seek a waiver from the requirements of the federal program.

It’s not yet known when a decision will be made on whether the state’s waiver application will be approved, Deputy Commissioner of Education Paul Leather said this month.

The 97-page draft application outlines the state’s plans to use the flexibility a waiver would provide. Plans include improving teacher effectiveness, creating a system of student-centered learning and increasing high school graduation rates.

“New Hampshire has a long history of education excellence,” the draft states. “However, as times change New Hampshire’s strategies need to evolve. New Hampshire must continually improve its system to ensure a better educational experience for all learners in a rapidly changing world – one that will result in more students reaching higher levels of learning, and better equipped to succeed beyond high school.”

Ensuring students are college and career ready will require that they not only meet the content knowledge expectations of the Common Core State Standards in language arts and mathematics, according to the draft, but also apply that knowledge to real-world situations.

A competency education system in which students are measured by a system of college and career-ready standards and are advanced as they demonstrate mastery, the application states, would be a key component of ensuring students are ready for life after graduation.

The state’s plans would also adopt a system of varied assessments, administered when students are ready to demonstrate competency “as opposed to waiting for an arbitrary date on the calendar,” the draft states.

And while the state’s need to meet Annual Yearly Progress under No Child Left Behind would no longer be in place with an approved waiver, education officials have said a strong accountability system would remain.

More than 70 percent of New Hampshire schools were identified as in need of improvement last year, a classification that Leather said didn’t always give a true picture of improvement.

“That included some schools that had made some significant improvements,” he said, “and that was not recognized.”

Under a waiver, the state hopes to create an accountability system that would focus improvements on the 15 percent of lowest-performing schools.

Other lower-performing districts that didn’t fall in the bottom 15 percent could still take advantage of the state’s assistance programs that will be offered on a regional basis but wouldn’t be required to provide the extensive reports and data that the current system requires.

Leather said the waiver would also change the annual proficiency objectives, looking at where schools are and asking that they close at least half of their gap to 100 percent proficiency within six years.

To help meet these objectives, the draft application states, a system of supports in which educators engage in continuous, research-based improvements processes would be implemented.

An educator effectiveness system tied to student performance, including competency attainment, would also be enacted to address preparation, mentoring and evaluation of teachers and principals.

While a number of the strategies outlined could, and would, be implemented without an approved waiver, the application states that the added flexibility provided by a waiver would allow the state to more quickly reach its goals.

“In the end, it will be the students of New Hampshire that benefit from a better, more rigorous, innovative, meaningful education that prepares them for success in college and careers,” the application states.

Danielle Curtis can be reached at 594-6557 or dcurtis@nashuatelegraph.com. Also follow Curtis on Twitter (Telegraph_DC).