No Child exemption studied
A federal program would ease test-score targets for schools in up to 10 states
THE HAWAII Department of Education is studying whether to apply to become one of several states granted a major break from rigid requirements of the No Child Left Behind law.
U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings notified states on Monday that a new pilot program would free schools in up to 10 states from the strict test-score targets mandated under the federal law.
Instead, schools will be judged on whether students show clear and steady progress, even if test scores actually fall short of the official targets.
Her offer to allow a so-called "growth model" for student achievement marks a significant milestone in the history of the controversial education law, often criticized by states as too rigid and punitive.
State Superintendent Pat Hamamoto said yesterday her staff will begin studying whether Hawaii could qualify under the pilot's requirements.
"We plan to apply if it is feasible for us to apply," Hamamoto said. "I believe in taking all the opportunities we can to help our schools."
Applicant states must submit a "growth model" proposal by Feb. 17. The federal Education Department will review the proposals and select the states that are allowed to pilot their models. Results of the pilot will presumably be used to determine whether more states can adopt such models.
A "growth model" could be a promising option for Hawaii, especially in light of state test results for this year. Though most schools failed to meet targets, many showed significant improvements over the previous year.
No Child Left Behind requires that a steadily rising percentage of students score "proficient" in both math and reading, with all students expected to be "proficient" by 2014.
Schools that miss the targets must allow students to transfer to better-performing schools and eventually submit to school "restructuring." Dozens of Hawaii schools already have fallen into that status.
"I believe in the growth model," Hamamoto said. "It's not about instant success, but about showing that you are improving and ensuring that that growth is solid."
However, it remains unclear whether the state DOE will be able to meet the pilot's sophisticated record-keeping demands, which include the ability to track individual student progress over time, something the department does not currently do.
"We're going to have to look at the details and whether the data we have in place would sustain that kind of model," said Robert McClelland, the department's director of planning and evaluation.
Other requirements raise questions as well.
For example, Spellings' message said the growth models to be submitted "must have been operational for more than one year."
Several states use some form of growth model separately from the No Child Left Behind requirements. But Hawaii does not have one, McClelland said, and he's unsure whether one could be devised before the deadline.
"I'm not sure if we'll be able to create that. We're going to have to consult with a lot of people," he said.
Spellings conceded that many states would fall short of the requirements.
"I understand that this is a high bar and not every state's data or assessment infrastructure will meet these requirements," she said, adding that, of all the growth models in use, "none currently meets all of these core requirements."
Pilot participants will continue to be bound by other key tenets of No Child Left Behind, including 100 percent proficiency by 2014.