Georgia school officials say they’ve had enough of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and they want to focus instead on better preparing students for life after school.
State School Superintendent John Barge and Sen. Johnny Isakson submitted a statewide waiver to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Tuesday that would base school performance on college and career readiness in addition to test scores, graduation rates and attendance.
“We are looking at not going backwards,” Barge said in a press conference Tuesday. “No Child Left Behind was very good legislation when you are required to look at subgroups and disaggregate data ... But now it’s time to go to the next step.”
Barge said the waiver was based on Georgia students coming out of grade school and college with little to no job skills.
“What we have done with No Child Left Behind is focus on a test, given on a single day at a given time,” he said. “We have prepared children to pass that test but ... we have students passing that test that are not ready for college and are not ready for the work.”
Testing and splitting up the data based on subgroups will still be a part of the new college and career readiness index, but tests are no longer the single indicator, Barge said.
All grade levels will be evaluated, with elementary school students learning career awareness, middle school students career exploration and high school students career development. Schools will be judged on things like the percentage of students completing career interest surveys.
“Georgia began working on this index even before I was elected superintendent,” Barge said. “To my knowledge, only one other state (Kentucky) has produced a waiver or a new
Isakson said the new plans, if passed, will build on the foundation laid by No Child Left Behind instead of erasing the slate completely.
“It is a work in progress,” Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said. “This is certainly a step in the right direction.”
Schofield said he believes schools focused so long on standardized tests and data that they lost emphases on creativity and arts, two things the new index will address.
The index is based on Georgia House Bill 400 and House Bill 186. HB 400 created the BRIDGE program for career exploration and development in schools and HB 186 transitions schools to a more career-prep and rigorous college-prep curriculum.
In other words, Barge said, students can get high school and college credit in a variety of new ways — dual enrollment, apprenticeships, industry certifications and Career, Technical and Agricultural Education classes.
“The career classes and the academic core classes merge, teaching the same standards. ... You could get career class credit for English,” Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said at Monday night’s board meeting. “We may be able to add more programs without increasing more people. That’s what we’ve got to start thinking about.”
Now that the waiver is turned in, it’s a waiting game.
“There really has not been any guidance provided by the U.S. Department of Education, so we’re hoping we’ll hear back very soon,” Barge said.
He said if all goes as planned, the college and career readiness index will be used to evaluate the 2011 school year.
Local school officials hope that is the case.
In an interview Tuesday, Dyer said she applauds Georgia for pursuing the waiver.
“The No Child Left Behind Adequate Yearly Progress measures were unrealistic and just didn’t make sense anymore,” she said.
Dyer said the school system welcomes measures other than test scores that will be used to determine students’ proficiency.
“(No Child Left Behind) had a noble goal, but that’s all it focused on,” Schofield said. “We measure the effectiveness of schools based on a bottom common denominator ... and an awful lot of children are left behind and often those are the ones who are performing.”
No Child Left Behind only compared third grade to third grade, fourth to fourth and so on. It did not take into account how one child performed in third grade versus how he performed in fourth on standardized tests.
The new index will award schools both on achievement and progress data — how students perform as individuals compared to previous years and how grade levels improve as a whole.
Isakson said in Georgia, the students intended to be helped by the initial law have improved, but it is becoming increasingly difficult for schools to meet AYP because of annually increasing benchmarks.
Barge said schools still in Needs Improvement status this year, including Gainesville Middle School, would remain Needs Improvement with the new college and career readiness index, at least for the 2011 school year. He said this year, if the waiver passes, will be used as “baseline” data.
“The reason those schools fell in Needs Improvement means one group did not make AYP,” Isakson said. “My point here is, by doing away with AYP and establishing a new index, you would not have one disaggregated group dragging a school down. Instead, the school would be evaluated in its totality.”