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N.H. Sends Off No Child Left Behind Waiver Request

Flikr Creative Commons / Lars Hammar

As expected the state Department of Education todayformally askedthe federal government for a waiver from the No Child Left Behind law. The state's request is 96 pages long, it's a full document, but NHPR's Brady Carlson sat down with reporter Sam Evans-Brown talk about what it contains.

Brady Carlson: What does getting a waiver from No Child Left Behind actually mean?

Sam Evans-Brown: The waiver process was introduced last year after congress failed to reauthorize No Child Left Behind. Basically states are allowed to introduce their own plan for how to improve education within their borders. If that plan passes muster under the guidelines the feds have laid out, then states are off the hook for some of the most unpopular pieces of NCLB. We’re talking about Adequate Yearly Progress here, so the idea that 100 percent of students will need to perform at grade level by 2014, that will be gone, along with the penalties that schools would face for not reaching those goals, which are now seen by many as unattainable.

So far 32 states have been granted waivers, and only two states that have applied haven’t gotten them. One being our Neighbor Vermont. The barrier there was a requirement that student test-scores be used as part of a measure for teacher effectiveness.

Brady Carlson: How much of a shift is this really going to mean at the school level? Is this going to really lead to changes in standards, curricula, classroom activity, etc? Is it just measurement, or no?

Sam Evans-Brown: There are definitely changes coming down the pike, but many of them were coming regardless of whether or not the state applied for a waiver. For example there has been some coverage of the “College and Career Ready Standards” section of the waiver, which New Hampshire will satisfy by adopting the Common Core State Standards. But those standards have been in the works for some time, and New Hampshire actually signaled that it would be adopting them back in 2010, as have 45 other states.

While these new standards will change how teachers work with kids in the classroom – theoretically for the better – the waiver is hardly the impetus, here; instead this is really an evolving national notion of what is best practice filtering its way into New Hampshire schools.

What the waiver process has really done is required the State Department of Education to lay out a road-map and timeline for how this implementation will occur all in one document.

Brady Carlson: So what is the timeline?

Sam Evans-Brown: Schools are going to start changing to the new standards this year. Now with a change in standards comes a change in standardized testing as well. The state will do NECAP tests for the last time next fall, and begin transitioning to what’s called the Smarter Balanced test. This is a test that was developed to receive Race to the Top dollars from the Obama Administration.

These tests are still being developed, but the buzz is that they won’t just be fill-in-the-blank, they will also feature more open-ended questions, and kids will take them on computers.

After a pilot, the state will start using this test in the spring of 2015.

Brady Carlson: What else does the waiver mean?

Sam Evans-Brown: Probably the biggest change for schools is that the guillotine isn’t hanging over the heads of under-performing schools anymore. The new approach is to use testing to identify the states bottom 15 percent schools, but then to target them for improvement.

Schools will have turn-around coaches, they will be targeted for professional development, and while more controversial measures like replacing principals and teachers are still on the table, the Department of Education has made it clear that the focus will be on finding local solutions to poor-performance.

Brady Carlson: Are we assured to get the waiver?

Sam Evans-Brown: Not necessarily. Part of the reason we didn’t originally try to get a waiver was because the state’s tradition of local control makes handing any decrees down to local schools rather unpopular. One of the requirements of the waiver is to implement a teacher evaluation system, which New Hampshire has done, but using that system only optional. Schools are required to evaluate teachers, but they are allowed to do so however they see fit.

There are other states, like Colorado and Utah that have optional systems, but those states have more rules on what is or isn’t an acceptable system.

We really can’t say for sure until the feds give us the yea or nay.

Brady Carlson: But when they do we'll check back in with you.

Sam Evans-Brown has been working for New Hampshire Public Radio since 2010, when he began as a freelancer. He shifted gears in 2016 and began producing Outside/In, a podcast and radio show about “the natural world and how we use it.” His work has won him several awards, including two regional Edward R. Murrow awards, one national Murrow, and the Overseas Press Club of America's award for best environmental reporting in any medium. He studied Politics and Spanish at Bates College, and before reporting was variously employed as a Spanish teacher, farmer, bicycle mechanic, ski coach, research assistant, a wilderness trip leader and a technical supporter.
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