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U.S. DOE approves requests for flexibility

Georgia Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox was notified last week that requests she made for greater flexibility in implementing No Child Left Behind had been approved by the federal government. The changes were approved by the state Board of Education at a special meeting Thursday morning and take effect immediately.

Cox, a strong supporter of No Child Left Behind, sought the flexibility to make sure the law is being applied fairly to all schools, but still assure that every student is receiving the support and help they need.

“I’m very excited about this increased flexibility and grateful to U.S Secretary Margaret Spellings for her vision and leadership in this matter,” said Cox. “This flexibility will help all systems as they work hard to meet the rigorous demands of No Child Left Behind.”

But, she added: “Let me be clear: We are not backing away from our obligation to teach every child, no matter their race, their economic situation or their learning challenges. As long as I am Superintendent of Schools we will not shirk that responsibility.”

Since taking office, Secretary Spellings has said she favors a common-sense approach to implementing No Child Left Behind, offering “flexibility where possible and necessary.”

“We want states to see No Child Left Behind as a partnership—one that enables them to take the lead on reform, to renew the spirit of federalism that guides education,” Spellings said last month in a speech to the Education Writers Association. “But this approach is conditioned upon ensuring that real annual progress is made toward getting every single child to read and do math at grade level. The only way to achieve that goal is to adhere to the law's bright lines of annual testing and breaking down data by student subgroups.”

The U.S. DOE did review Georgia’s 2005 test scores before making the decision on whether to grant the state’s flexibility requests. Federal officials were pleased with the overall progress that the state is making, especially in educating students with disabilities and English language learners.

Changes approved last week by the state Board of Education:

Subgroup size: The U.S. DOE is allowing Georgia to connect its subgroup size to the size of a school. Previously, the subgroup size was 40, no matter how big or small the school. However, under the new guidelines approved this week, a subgroup size will either be 40 students or 10 percent of the assessed student population, whichever is greater. However, a subgroup can be no larger than 75. The assessed student population means the total number of children whose test results are used to determine Adequate Yearly Progress. (e.g. for a traditional k-5 elementary school, it would be the children in grades 3-5).

Several states have sought this flexibility and in many cases asked for larger maximum subgroup sizes. However, Cox was dedicated to making sure the subgroup size was small enough to help as many students as possible.

“This is a way to make the law fairer to larger schools, but still ensure that all students are served well,” Cox said.

A school is held accountable for AYP for the test performance of subgroups that meet the minimum size. However, the results of students in subgroups smaller than the minimum size are still reported under state law.

Students with Disabilities: The federal government will allow schools and school systems some flexibility in the Students with Disabilities category. This flexibility was granted for this year only while the state develops a modified test for about 2 percent of its students with disabilities.

These students, while not severely disabled, will not make progress as quickly as their peers in regular programs. Therefore, the federal and state departments realized it was unfair to measure these students using the same assessments given to the greater population.

With this flexibility, schools that miss making Adequate Yearly Progress only because of the performance of their Students with Disabilities can grade on a curve, adding 16 percentage points to the subgroup’s performance.

Last year, there were 165 out of Georgia’s more than 2,000 schools that did not make Adequate Yearly Progress only because of the performance of students in this subgroup.

Graduation Rate: This change will allow Georgia to calculate the graduation rate using summer school after the 12th grade. This means that a high school senior who successfully finishes his or her schooling in summer school after his or her fourth high school year will, for the purposes of No Child Left Behind, count as having graduated on time. This applies to all subgroups except English Language Learners. Aside from test scores, all Georgia High Schools must meet a graduation rate bar under No Child Left Behind.

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