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State files for education law waiver
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ATLANTA — Georgia is asking for a massive overhaul of how it measures student achievement under the federal No Child Left Behind law, according to documents released Monday.

The state is requesting that it be allowed to include science, social studies and foreign languages — rather than just math and reading — in its calculation of which schools pass muster, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. Georgia also wants to stop rating schools as simply passing or failing by using a five-star system and colored flags to indicate whether a school is making gains. State officials hope the system will make it easier for parents and community members to tell how a school is truly performing.

Georgia schools Superintendent John Barge said the state wants to expand what test scores and measures are used to determine how students are performing. The current federal law calls for states to use standardized tests, attendance and a handful of other factors, but Barge said the state wants to count Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, SAT and ACT test scores, as well as put more focus on attendance.

Under federal law, elementary and middle school students in Georgia who did poorly in reading and math were taken out of other classes for remediation to help them meet federal goals. That's created a pipeline of students who have studied little other than math and reading throughout their schooling, he said.

"What's happened over time is you would get students into high school that would have little to no science content knowledge and they're not prepared for high school," Barge said in a meeting Monday with other state school chiefs in Washington, D.C.

Under the waiver request, Georgia also wants to overhaul its tutoring program to provide help in more subject areas and to give schools flexibility in how to design those lessons. Currently, schools must use a private tutoring service for students struggling in just math and reading.

Georgia filed its waiver Monday, landing among the first states to apply for flexibility after Education Secretary Arne Duncan and President Barack Obama announced in September that they would let states get around unpopular parts of the federal law in exchange for better ways to measure student performance.

Obama called for Congress to overhaul the law, which was passed in 2002 under former President George W. Bush, by the start of school. The White House has grown increasingly frustrated as political divides and disagreements over how to change the law have held up its reauthorization.

"We're going to let states, schools and teachers come up with innovative ways to give our children the skills they need to compete for the jobs of the future," Obama said during a Sept. 23 speech. "Because what works in Rhode Island may not be the same thing that works in Tennessee — but every student should have the same opportunity to learn and grow, no matter what state they live in."

The law has been due for a rewrite since 2007.

Applications for waivers submitted by Georgia and other states will be reviewed in December, and the Education Department is expected to announce which waivers will be granted early next year. Nearly 40 states have said they plan to apply for a waiver between now and February.

Georgia hopes to use the new accountability system this spring to calculate how schools are performing. Other states that filed Monday include Florida, Massachusetts, Kentucky and Colorado.

Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, said No Child Left Behind was "on the verge of losing credibility" because it hamstrings schools from the kinds of strategies that could help students.

"We felt it would be a tragedy if a landmark law that was intended to provide greater opportunity and higher outcomes for all students, if that law were not only hindering achievement and resulting in inappropriate practices, but capping innovation," Wilhoit said. "People are no longer looking at the results of the federal compact and focusing on the schools and districts. They're now looking at the law and shortcomings in that law."


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