Testing waiver loosens ‘noose’ for Cape schools

By Tara Jayakar, Cape Cod Times

Cape educators say they are relieved with the news that Massachusetts schools have been released from the federal testing guidelines of the No Child Left Behind Act, but some are wondering what this new freedom will mean.

“What kind of relief do we get?” Barnstable public schools Superintendent Mary Czajkowski asked a day after the Feb. 9 announcement.

The White House announced earlier this month that Massachusetts and nine other states will be granted a waiver from the 2005 federal education law that sets annual “adequate yearly progress” benchmarks for student achievement in basic areas of math and reading.

The No Child Left Behind Act has been criticized as setting artificial goals for standardized testing, using time and resources that could be better spent in other areas of education.

The move lifts a 2014 deadline to reach established levels of student proficiency under the condition that states establish guidelines for evaluating teachers and schools. Massachusetts has taken that step under a 2010 education reform law that state officials say sets higher standards than the federal law.

“If you’re willing to set higher, more honest standards than the ones that were set by No Child Left Behind, then we’re going to give you the flexibility to meet those standards,” President Barack Obama said.

State educators and lawmakers were happy with the president’s decision, hopeful that the waiver will inspire creativity and innovation in schools and allow teachers to use multiple resources instead of teaching to the test.

“The 2014 deadline was a noose on a lot of necks” said Rep. Demetrius Atsalis, D-Barnstable.

The waiver will make a difficult job a little easier, he said, by giving Massachusetts an opportunity to get to the end result — statewide student proficiency in reading and math — on its own.

“We have to get away from the one size fits all,” Atsalis said. “That’s not how life works.”

While Atsalis said the waiver would not affect federal funding, it would help to correct the misspending of Title 1 funding that provides money for educating children from low-income families.

Some of that money has been used to pay for programs to help students raise test scores and meet No Child Left Behind standards.

“Let them use it for what the money was intended for,” he said.

Carol A Woodbury, superintendent of Dennis-Yarmouth public schools, said that Massachusetts has, for the past few years, been “running two systems — state and federal. She believes the waiver will allow for the two systems to come together.

The waiver also requires guidelines for evaluating teachers that, according to Woodbury, Massachusetts already had in place.

Lifting the deadline will allow the school to focus on “closing proficiency gaps” and figuring out which school needs what kind of support, she said.

Czajkowski said that school focus should be more on the general education standards than on standardized test scores.

“Aligning common standards is a positive thing.” said Czajkowski.

But she still has some doubts about what will be expected of schools and administrators.

Czajkowski said that school administrations might need some more guidance on teaching standard accountability.

Falmouth schools Superintendent Marc Dupuis said that, while the schools are still sifting through the information, the waiver means that federal and state grants once earmarked for specific programs are now available for wider use.

He also said that the federal waiver would shift schools’ accountability to more rigorous Massachusetts criteria.

“Massachusetts has higher — if not the highest — standards in the country” he said. “It would only benefit the commonwealth to be held to those standards”

Sen. Dan Wolf, D-Harwich said the waiver acknowledges the joint efforts of legislators, administrators, and teacher’s unions.

“We have a really good partnership going on in Massachusetts,” Wolf said. “We’re delivering a good product.”

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