By DANIELLE CURTIS
Staff Writer, Nashua Telegram
CONCORD – The Granite State received some long-awaited news Wednesday: Relief from the mounting requirements of No Child Left Behind was officially granted by the federal Department of Education.
The news came nearly 10 months after the state applied for the waiver in September 2012.
“New Hampshire is now free to pursue more effective and innovative ways to address the needs of all our students and prepare them for the jobs of the 21st century economy,” said Gov. Maggie Hassan in a statement Wednesday. “By receiving this waiver, New Hampshire will continue to protect its most underserved students, close achievement gaps, increase equity and improve the quality of instruction while also pursuing needed comprehensive reforms and protecting local control.”
With Wednesday’s approval, New Hampshire became the 39th state to receive a waiver from some of the requirements of No Child Left Behind. Six other states still have applications pending, while five, including Vermont, are not seeking waivers.
“This waiver provides our state the opportunity to focus resources on those initiatives that will move our state forward in the best interest of children,” said education Commissioner Virginia Barry on Wednesday.
The state’s plans under the waiver would include bringing all graduating students to college and career readiness by 2017.
And while the state’s need to meet Annual Yearly Progress under No Child Left Behind will no longer be in place, education officials have said a strong accountability system would remain.
About 75 percent of New Hampshire schools would have been labeled as “failing” next year under NCLB.
But with the approved waiver, the state will instead focus the majority of improvements and resources on the 5 percent of lowest-performing Title I “priority” schools.
Additional resources will be provided to “focus schools,” those 10 percent of Title I schools in the state with the largest achievement gaps among students, said Heather Gage, director of the state Division of Instruction.
When it comes to teacher evaluations, the state changed its original plans only slightly after talks with the federal government, maintaining the local control intended in its waiver application, Gage said.
Deputy Commissioner of Education Paul Leather said some of the delay on the state’s waiver approval was due to the state’s plans for educator evaluations, which would preserve local control by not requiring school districts to implement all of the proposed reforms. Federal guidelines say such changes should be mandated.
Under the waiver, teacher evaluations will be based on five components, including student achievement.
In the original waiver application, the state required schools to use multiple measures of student achievements in evaluations, including state standardized tests, but did not require student achievement to make up a certain percentage of evaluation measures.
After talks with federal officials, Gage said, the state agreed to require that each of the five components of evaluations, including student achievement, be worth 20 percent of an evaluation. How schools measure student success during this process, however, will be in their hands.
“The (federal officials) really felt it was important to have (student achievement) be a significant component,” Gage said. “There needed to be a weight on student growth measures.”
Now that the state’s waiver is approved, education officials can begin working with local districts under the new accountability system.
Gage said much of the work will simply continue ongoing efforts – in teacher effectiveness, college and career readiness, and the implementation of the Common Core State Standards.
Where the differences will lie is whether a school or school district will be identified as a priority or focus school in the coming year.
Gage said the state already has begun talks with leaders of schools that likely will receive the additional support and said the state hopes to announce those schools by the end of next week.
Schools will be given 30 days to appeal the designation.
The changes, Gage said, are an important opportunity for the state.
“We’re just really excited about that,” she said. “In those struggling schools, we really want to help them capture those things that they are doing well, and provide supports where they don’t have the right pieces in place. We’re really looking at this to support schools better.”