No Child Left Behind federal school standards end in Missouri

Fulton school superintendent supports change

Callaway County public schools and other schools throughout Missouri no longer will be required to meet tough education standards set by the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education was told Friday that its application for a waiver from the federal law has been approved by the U.S. Department of Education.

To receive the waiver, the Missouri’s top school administrators were required by the federal government to promise to set high, but achievable, state standards.

Missouri Education Commissioner Chris L. Nicastro said Missouri standards will be set high enough to make sure that all students graduating from high school will be college-bound and career-ready.

Nicastro promised the federal government that Missouri’s standards would be high enough for Missouri to meet its goal of becoming one of the top 10 states in education by the year 2020.

Fulton School Superintendent Jacque Cowherd said he is pleased that school districts in Missouri will now will be judged by only one set of standards. He said it sometimes is difficult to communicate with parents on the school’s performance because of the two differing standards.

Cowherd said although federal test standards were set extremely high the overall state standards have historically been higher than many federal standards.

Cowherd said state standards require improvement each year in the performance of students. “As we improve, our standards get higher. It is never possible to reach a plateau. After a rating is achieved, that rating will then get higher. As the students at Fulton and other schools in Callaway County and the state improve, they will be pushed to a little higher standard. That’s a good thing for students and our community because we are competing on a national basis for industries to come to our area as attractive places to live with a solid school system. It is a positive for our community to have high achievement,” Cowherd said.

He said Title 1 federal aid now will no longer be required to be spent only on students whose parents have low incomes but can be distributed throughout the district to benefit all students. “This will help our district overall,” he said.

Cowherd said the district will use much of its effort until school starts working on a transition to one set of standards. “This is something for us to work on this summer to get ready for the school year. As we move to one standard, it will help our focus and help our public understand better what we are trying to accomplish,” Cowherd said.

Cowherd said testing similar to MAP tests and end of course exams will continue under the state but with a different format and standards that are more achievable. “Our focus has been on mathematics and communications arts. Now that focus will spread to other subjects. It is always going to be difficult to meet improvement standards when we are trying to move every child forward. When it comes to steady improvement of all students, our Fulton School District continues to do relatively well on a comparative basis,” Cowherd said.

Nicastro said the waiver means Missouri will have higher academic standards under one state system of accountability.

She said the waiver also will allow the state to have more flexibility in spending Title 1 federal education aid money.

That was good news to Sandy Haskins, assistant superintendent of the North Callaway R-1 School District at Kingdom City. Haskins supervises Title 1 federal education aid at North Callaway. Title 1 federal aid, intended to aid districts with low income patrons, is apportioned to schools based on the number of students receiving free or reduced price lunches.

“The No Child Left Behind federal standards over-identified schools that were not in trouble,” Haskins said. “We are a good example. North Callaway has been state accredited with distinction for five consecutive years but we have been placed on the federal No Child Left Behind school district improvement list in Level 3. We have been required to set aside funds that could have been used more efficiently.”

Haskins said the district has been forced to reduce the number of teachers in classrooms because the district under federal standards was required to set aside 20 percent of the money for supplemental education, which is the after-school tutoring program.

“Unfortunately, data and research showed the tutoring was not helping the students involved. It was a waste of money. We can do just as good or better for a lot less money. I couldn’t use that money to hire people. Instead, we had to let some of the teachers go,” Haskins said.

“I don’t see this change damaging our academic standards in any way. Instead, it will improve them. It also will require more accountability for our teachers in using the state’s model for evaluation of teachers or one similar to the state model,” Haskins said.

New Bloomfield and South Callaway School District administrators could not be reached for comment Friday.

The new Missouri standards, the state education commissioner said, will focus on school improvement rather than attempting to reach unattainable federal test score standards.

Nicastro said the new state standards also will improve the teacher evaluation system.

Missouri’s new flexibility waiver goes into effect immediately for the 2012-2013 school year starting this fall.

Missouri now will use its own accountability system to identify struggling schools. It then will direct resources to struggling schools and recognize schools receiving exemplary results.

Missouri was one of five state receiving approval in round two of the waiver request. The other states with waivers approved Friday are Arkansas, South Dakota, Utah, and Virginia.

Last September President Obama announced he had authorized the U.S. Department of Education to issue waivers to states asking to be exempted from mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Obama said he was allowing the waiver because Congress has been working on revising the law for the last four years and still has not changed it. “We are hearing from teachers, parents and students that the NCLB law is broken and needs to be fixed. Students, schools, districts and states can no longer wait,” Obama said.

The U.S. Department of Education issued the first round of waivers in February and Missouri was included in the second round of waivers along with the four other states.

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