The No Child Left Behind waiver that the State Department of Education is seeking to ease federal testing regulations would be temporary, a state official said Tuesday, but its impact would still be significant to South Carolina schools and districts.Dr. Nancy Busbee, a deputy superintendent with the State Department, joined other state staffers at a public hearing on the waiver proposal at Millbrook Elementary School.About 40 people attended the event, including Aiken Superintendent Dr. Beth Everitt, Board Chair Rosemary English and other board members.The waiver status would continue until Congress re-authorizes the No Child Left Behind legislation. However, the law was scheduled to be revisited in 2009, and Congress has yet to do so.Most parents are familiar with the federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) rules that require schools and districts to meet performance objectives for all students and specifically, for low-income, minority, English as Second Language (ESL) and special education subgroups. A school that misses a single objective is moved from the "Met" to the "Not Met" category."The word 'failure' is not in the NCLB legislation," said Busbee, "but the perception is that a school has failed for missing even one objective. That puts such schools in the same boat as schools that miss (several) objectives."The State Department has produced a prospective waiver document, but the State Board of Education will consider public input from more than 20 hearings around the state before approving the final proposal.If approved, the waiver would allow the state to come up with its own accountability system to replace AYP, Busbee said.What the state is considering is a "growth model," taking into account improvement in student performance more than the current system does.Busbee said the scores of male and female students would be weighted separately as well as collectively. Thus, if girls in a specific subgroup did especially well in language arts, they would get a full point score. If the boys didn't meet the objective, but did show progress, they would earn 0.5 points.Ultimately, each school and the district would get a letter grade, "and parents can understand a grade," Busbee said.About 25 schools in the state that emerge as the lowest-performing would be named priority schools and receive additional attention and resources.A total of 10 percent of the schools that have substantial achievement gap issues would also get additional focus from the State Department.Following the hearing, Aiken School Board member Richard Hazen said, "I'm happy to see there should be a measurement that is more consistent and not punitive. All in all, the less federal intrusion we have, the better."Senior writer Rob Novit has worked at the Aiken Standard for the past 10 years. He covers education news and general assignments.
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