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Massachusetts Files For Waiver To ‘No Child Left Behind’ Law

By Mary Blake, WBZ NewsRadio 1030
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BOSTON (CBS) – Look for changes in school accountability guidelines in Massachusetts if the No Child Left Behind waiver application submitted Monday by the Commonwealth is accepted.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Mary Blake reports

State education officials expect to hear back from the federal government early this winter and the state system already in place would become the new overarching standard next fall.

Massachusetts education leaders say the ten-year-old federal law has merit, but “there were elements in the accountability system that work very poorly,” state Education Secretary Paul Reville told WBZ NewsRadio 1030.

“It does, literally, expect perfection,” said Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell Chester.

And the countdown toward perfection is looming.

“Every school and district in each state has to get to the point within the next two years where 100-percent of its students are at grade level or above,” Chester said.

In fact, even this year, under the federal No Child Left Behind guidelines, most schools and districts in the state are not making the grade.

“We have 90-percent of our districts in 80-percent of our schools that are failing the federal No Child Left Behind criteria and that just flies in the face of common sense,” Chester said.

Hence, the move away from the rigid 100-percent proficiency requirement. Chester is quick to say the plan the state is submitting is not lax.

Massachusetts is proposing that, within six years, the proportion of students in the state not on grade level be cut in half.

“I’m very committed to maintaining a high bar on our expectations for students. I’m very much a believer that it’s the adults in the system who are responsible for whether or not children are learning and learning well,” Chester said.

However, the state’s waiver application does not change the current state of affairs in Winchester, where the Lynch Elementary School‘s MCAS scores did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for the second consecutive year.

This means, that under No Child Left Behind, parents can opt to send their children to other elementary schools in town.

Parents packed a meeting with Winchester school officials last Wednesday to ask why they weren’t notified at the beginning of the school year, and why they only had two weeks to make a decision.

Superintendent William McAlduff apologized for, in his words, “dropping the ball.”

In his office the following day, he had some harsh words for the current system.

“(No Child Left Behind), (Adequate Yearly Progress) school choice has no credibility. None. Not in Massachusetts,” he said.

McAlduff said under the Massachusetts system that is running concurrently with No Child Left Behind, Lynch Elementary isn’t even close to being designated for improvement.

“And that makes sense to me because Massachusetts has the most rigorous standards in the country,” he said.

Parents, however, are in a quandary.

Barbara Sheegog is the parent of a third grader and a fifth grader at Lynch.

“You hear crazy rumors of whole classrooms full of kids leaving,” she said.

North Andover’s Thomson Elementary School had 26 students leave when they were first designated an improvement school.

Principal Greg Gilligan, new at the helm when that happened in 2008, immediately launched a rebuilding effort with teacher collaborations, summer school and community partnerships.

Retired teachers even returned to help.

“We’ve really worked very hard,” he said, praising all of the teachers there.

“Really they are the stars of the school.”

Gilligan added that most parents were very supportive and this year Thomson shed its accountability status.

North Andover Schools Superintendent Christopher Hottel appreciates the challenges the school met and overcame.

“It focused all of us on the fact that everybody can learn,” he said.

The numbers suggested changing schools is not utilized often.

In the 2010-2011 school year, out of nearly 375,000 students who qualified for school choice, only 753 moved, according to state education officials.

So what happens to school choice if No Child Left Behind is waived?

“That becomes a feature that no longer applies automatically,” state Education Secretary Paul Reville said.

There would not be a reversal of school choice and current school choice decisions would stand.

In the meantime, Winchester’s Lynch Elementary school parents are expected to make their decisions before the end of the year.

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