Mandan News

Wilfred Volesky: The decision regarding a waiver

You may have recently read about a decision being considered by North Dakota’s Department of Public Instruction to apply for a waiver from the U. S. Department of Education. This waiver was made possible by President Obama as a process for the states to obtain relief from the key provisions in the No Child Left Behind Act.

In order for any state to be eligible for the waiver, a state must meet criteria in four key areas.  The four areas are: 1) College and career readiness expectations for all students, 2) State-developed differentiated recognition, accountability and supports to ensure continuous improvement, 3) Supporting effective instruction and leadership and 4) Reducing duplication and unnecessary burden. To receive the waiver the state would need to meet each of these four areas.

At the present time most educators in North Dakota feel we are in a good position to accomplish items one, two and four. However, we are not in a good position to develop a teacher and principal evaluation system that is tied to student performance. This would take a collaborative effort on behalf of all educator groups in the state to accomplish.

From my perspective I have a difficult time going through the process of developing a teacher and principal evaluation system tied to student performance just to satisfy the Department of Education requirement to receive a waiver. If we plan to create a teacher and principal evaluation system because we believe it is the right thing to do because it will ultimately increase student achievement, then we should consider applying for the waiver. This is the decision currently being considered by DPI.

We know that the current No Child Left Behind Act has several requirements in it that are certainly unfair to schools. The most notable is the requirement that 100 percent of our students in grades three through eight and 11 be proficient in math and reading by 2013-14. This proficiency goal is based on just one assessment, the North Dakota State Assessment, given once a year. This is an impossible goal for schools to accomplish since they need to educate students with many different ability levels. Many students come to school with very limited skills and although I believe we do our best to help each student increase their academic skill level, it may not be realistic to expect them to reach proficiency. If a school does not have the required percentage of students reach proficiency they are considered to be a failing school. Many of the students in these schools have achieved at least a year’s worth of growth in reading and math. However, since the school did not have the percentage of students required to meet proficiency, the school will be considered a failing school. Without a waiver we will continue to be required to meet the NCLB guidelines that are currently in place.

Since we know the NCLB goal of reaching 100 percent proficiency is unrealistic, should we be concerned when we do not meet it? As a community can we accept, based on NCLB guidelines, we are going to have schools in our district that are going to be labeled as a failing school? As a parent are you concerned about your child attending a school labeled as failing?

I can assure you ever since the NCLB Act was enacted in 2001 our schools have created many programs to make sure every student has the opportunity to be successful. If the NCLB Act did anything, it did require educators to focus on how we can help every student be successful. It made us accountable for the education of every student and every subgroup of students in our district. This has been a very positive impact of the NCLB Act.

At the present time the N.D. Department of Public Instruction has delayed the decision whether North Dakota will be applying for the waiver. The department has another opportunity to submit a waiver in February 2012. There will be a great deal of discussion by N.D. educators prior to that time on whether we believe it is to the state’s advantage to seek the waiver. I am hopeful the decision will be based on whether it is in the best interest of N.D. students and educators to develop the criteria in the four key areas noted above versus just to meet the U.S Education Department’s requirements to receive the waiver. This question will be answered within the next several months.