Haines Borough School District officials this week hailed a recent waiver for Alaska from federal school accountability standards under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002.
The law was intended to ensure fairness in educational opportunity, including for disadvantaged children, but education officials – including ones in Haines – say its standards are rigid and unrealistic. The federal law carried penalties, including possible loss of funding.
The waiver, secured by state officials from the U.S. Department of Education, exempts the state from Adequate Yearly Progress standards, allowing the state to develop its own accountability program.
Testing showed Haines students with disabilities failed to meet the law’s “annual measurable objectives” in math and reading until 2011. The district met those objectives in recent years, with improvements that won the district a statewide award.
But under the federal law, the annual objectives rise each year. In the coming year, students were expected to be 92 percent proficient in math and English starting in third grade.
“When they started in 2002, the idea was to have every child achieving at a proficient level or higher in reading, math and science by 2014. Every year, the bar got higher. In Alaska, the (required improvement) was small over the first few years, but as it approached 2014, it went up dramatically,” said superintendent Michael Byer.
“It didn’t matter what kind of school you were, or where you started. If you got up against some kind of intractable problem, you were stuck,” Byer said.
Some districts improved with the increased standards, but more fell behind, Byer said.
The change doesn’t mean the district won’t be held to standards. “The growth model will put on some heat. There will be heat, I think. The era of accountability is not over.”
Instead of federal standards, the state will look at schools independently and provide targets for growth, Byer said. Among the changes will be teacher evaluations weighed at least 20 percent by measures of student growth, he said.
The district will still do testing to measure student achievement, Byer said. “They’re looking at coming up with another test that will rank students against where they should be in relation to their grade level. It’s better at showing growth. There will probably be a restructuring of test methods in the state, but that’s still to be done.”
The district will begin fashioning its own teacher evaluation model in the coming year, possibly incorporating one already chosen by Skagway, Byer said.