SD proposes alternative to No Child Left Behind

PIERRE — Education Secretary Melody Schopp said Monday that South Dakota has put together a new system for assessing schools' performance to replace flawed provisions in the federal school improvement law known as No Child Left Behind.

The new system should qualify the state for a waiver from current federal requirements and provide a long-term method of accountability once Congress makes expected changes in the law, Schopp said.

No Child Left Behind primarily uses an annual test to measure schools' progress. South Dakota's system would include testing but also look at students' academic growth from year to year, elementary school attendance, high school students' readiness for college or jobs, the effectiveness of teachers and school administrators and community attitudes toward local schools.

"We really think this model places the emphasis on continuing improvement," Schopp said.

A group of 23 teachers, school administrators and officials from education groups developed the plan. After getting public comments and making changes in response, the committee will submit its final version to the state Board of Education for approval Jan. 27, and a waiver proposal will be submitted to the U.S. Education Department on Feb. 21, Schopp said.

South Dakota's plan includes many elements contained in waiver proposals already submitted by 11 other states, Schopp said.

The public can comment on it on the Education Department's website, www.doe.sd.us .

Wade Pogany, executive director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, said school boards believe a change is needed from the current federal law, but it will be particularly difficult to work out details for evaluating teachers.

An official with the South Dakota Education Association, the state's main teachers' union, was not immediately available to comment.

Education officials in many states have complained No Child Left Behind labels many schools as failures even if they make progress. It requires every student to be proficient in reading and math by 2014, but many education officials say that's an unrealistic goal and they expected Congress to change the law by now.

President Barack Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan have said states can get waivers from current requirements if they agree to some reforms, such as tougher evaluation systems for teachers and administrators.

South Dakota would use the current test for this school year's evaluations, and then the new system would be phased in over four years. Schools ranked near the bottom under the new system would receive support to make improvements instead of being punished, Schopp said.

Schools in the bottom 70 percent also would have to seek greater annual improvements than those above that level.

The new system would use annual tests to measure the percentage of each school's students scoring proficient or advanced in reading and math. It would measure the academic achievement of students in groups that traditionally have scored lower than the statewide average on tests, including Native American, black, Hispanic and low-income students.

Student growth would be determined by the percentage of students exceeding projected academic progress from year to year. Teachers' and principals' evaluations would be based on observations and the academic growth of their students.

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