The State of Kansas, after filing an application with the federal government in February, received a No Child Left Behind (NCLB) "flexibility" waiver from the U.S. Department of Education on July 19. The waiver eliminates assessments based on mandated testing levels and requires "a prescribed level of improvement on at least one of several Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs) established by the state," according to the Kansas Department of Education (KDOE). The state of Kansas also has less rigid evaluative standards called the "Assessment Performance Index."
"I'm extremely pleased with the plan that has been advanced with the approval of our state's flexibility request," said Education Commissioner Dr. Diane DeBacker. "An accountability system based on student growth and multiple measures is a key component of our waiver and I believe it will result in a far more meaningful assessment of the progress and success of Kansas schools."
No Child Left Behind, former-President George W. Bush's 2001 education overhaul, created uniform federal testing standards and a framework establishing improvement benchmarks for elementary, middle and high schools receiving Title 1 education funding.
The law was passed by a bipartisan effort of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate.
Voting records show then-U.S. House members Jerry Moran and Jim Ryun voted against the bill, while 3rd and 4th District House Reps. Dennis Moore and Todd Tiahrt voted for the bill.
Then-U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback and current U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts both voted for the bill.
The law has been criticized for a number of its key provisions.
Under the law all students in a state take the same tests under the same conditions, not taking into account region or resources.
The law used "hard" goals, and did not take into account overall improvement. Schools that did not reach Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goals were labeled as "failing."
Goals for testing were expected to reach 100 percent in upcoming school years, which many education professionals felt and still feel is an unrealistic goal.
"We weren't sure we were ever going to have 100 percent," said Kiowa County Elementary and Junior High School Principal Staci Derstein. "I think we all knew that was unrealistic. [Our teachers] met the challenges, but my frustration with the tests was there were kids that were capable to reaching those goals, but were unmotivated to do so.
We've steadily improved our scores, it's not unusual for 95 percent of our kids to reach those goals. Our kids do well."
KDOE reports on the 2010-2011 school year indicate Kiowa County USD 422 and Haviland USD 474 have faired well amidst the AYP standards, with high percentages in exceeded and above average scoring, relative to state-wide averages.
Page 2 of 3 - Elementary testing at USD 422 in 2010-2011 showed very strong scores with average and above average testing dipping as students approach later grades and high school.
Seventh grade, 8th grade and 11th grade students showed trouble in mathematics, with 14.3 percent, 4.8 percent and 6.3 percent of students in the academic warning range respectively, although 8th grade and 11th grade students had improved from the previous year.
Haviland USD 422 received 91.1 percent proficiency in reading and 87.1 percent proficiency in mathematics following the 20122-2012 school years, both above state goals.
Haviland elementary also reported very high testing scores, with zero students with academic warning range scores during the 2010-2011 school year.
Scores in math, reading and science was often above state averages.
USD 474 reported a 100 percent proficiency in reading and a 98.2 percent proficiency in mathematics, both above the 87.8 percent and 86.7 percent state goals respectively.
The 2011-2012 school year reports will not be released until September.
Another criticism of the law was the focus on "core" subjects — writing, mathematics and reading — which forced many schools to divert funding and focus away from creative electives like theater and music programs.
"We don't like to say that we teach towards the test, but the standards require the teachers to teach towards those standards and those standards only," said USD 474 Superintendent Mike Couch. "It took away some creativity from the classroom, thinking out of the box was removed from the classroom so we could teach towards the state mandated indicators."
Couch echoed Derstein, acknowledging that the 100 percent AYP goal was unlikely.
"I don't think it was a reachable goal, nor do I think the current assessment program was best for all of the kids," he said. "I call [the changes] a good move. Too often we are aiming at a moving target. Hopefully this will give us attainable goals each year and will hold us accountable for improvement. I don't necessarily see much impact in the student's world. I think it will cause us to provide more training to teachers, to keep them up to date and current. It takes a lot of time for teachers to wrap their minds around what the expectations are. I expect lots of school for the teachers."
Changes will take place during the upcoming 2012-2013 school year.
The state will also institute a pilot program called the Kansas Educator Evaluation Protocol (KEEP) during the 2013-2014 school year. KEEP is an educator focused rating system. The program, which is required for Kansas to receive the waiver connects teacher evaluations with students' successes and may be wholly or in part adopted by individual districts.
"I think it's a good thing," said Derstein of the NCLB waiver. "If you have a sub-population in a school that hasn't done well and in a small school we're not taking about a big group of kids. I think my job and our staff's job is to look for improvement from those kids."
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