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S.D. schools back out of No Child Left Behind Act

Susan Notes:

One more state backing out of NCLB is good news.

Reader Comment: So let me see, SD will use old data so that it can still get the federal monies and the state would not have to intervene and maybe use state dollars. That is a very conservative way of working out a problem. It is also amazing that this program was sponsored by Rep John Boener and signed by GW Bush, but the republican state of South Dakota wants to change it. OK.

by Josh Verges

South Dakota schools will not face higher proficiency targets for this year's math and reading tests -- in defiance of the No Child Left Behind Act, Education Secretary Melody Schopp said Wednesday.

The move could put tens of millions of federal education dollars at risk, but Schopp said the law is proving unworkable.

The state had planned to raise Dakota STEP proficiency targets by several percentage points this year and next, almost certainly causing a huge increase in the number of South Dakota schools labeled as failing. Those schools require intervention from the state, and Schopp said her office would be unable to respond to such an increase.

In a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Schopp said Wednesday that the state intends to use 2010 benchmarks in calculating whether public school students and schools made "adequate yearly progress" in this spring.

It means, for example, that only 63 percent of high school juniors at a school will have to have scored proficient in math last spring, instead of 72 percent. Just 69 percent of students in grades 3-8 must have scored proficient in reading, not 76 percent.

In addition to freezing proficiency targets, Schopp said the state will lower its target graduation rate from 85 percent to 80 percent.

The federal government soon will require states to count only those students who graduate within four years, effectively counting five-year graduates as dropouts. South Dakota will begrudgingly adopt the new definition - Schopp said it lacks common sense - but will lower the target at the same time.

"Without making these changes, we believe our accountability system, as it currently stands, would inappropriately label schools as failing. This situation would eventually trigger a number of NCLB-related sanctions that our department simply does not have the capacity to address," Schopp wrote to Duncan.

Earlier this year, USDOE informally rejected the state's request to lower the graduation rate. By going ahead with the plan, Schopp acknowledged the state "could potentially be out of compliance" with No Child Left Behind, meaning the government could withhold funding

"We'll address it when it comes," Schopp said. "I definitely am not going to jeopardize our schools or jeopardize our department in losing any funding whatsoever."

It might not come to that. Duncan recently said the Obama administration, tired of waiting for Congress to pass a new law that replaces No Child Left Behind, will come up with an interim plan that offers states relief from sanctions for failing schools.
Idaho the first

Like South Dakota, Idaho is not waiting to see what that plan will be. Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna last week was the first education chief to announce his state's plans to defy No Child Left Behind.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear sent Duncan a letter Monday requesting a waiver so that his state could move ahead with its own accountability system.

Schopp, who spoke with Luna before sending her letter to Duncan, said she took action now because the state is under a time crunch to calculate which schools did and did not meet adequate yearly progress standards. She said it also sends a message that she's tired of waiting for Congress to update No Child Left Behind.

"I do think it was important for us to send a message that we need to reauthorize the legislation," she said.

Meanwhile, she and 40 other state education chiefs have begun working on new accountability systems to replace adequate yearly progress standards.
Sioux Falls applauds

Schopp told state school superintendents about the decision during a conference call Wednesday. Sioux Falls Superintendent Pam Homan was among those who cheered the move.

"I commend Secretary Schopp for her courageous leadership on this issue. I am grateful South Dakota's secretary of education is making a clear statement in support of our children, teachers and administration. In my opinion, it is simply a crime to negatively label children for life on a system with arbitrary benchmarks and no value for the individual progress of each child," she said in an email.

Harrisburg Superintendent Jim Holbeck said No Child Left Behind set an impossible goal: that 100 percent of students be proficient in math and reading by 2014.

"It was ridiculous, it was political, it got people votes. That's all it was," Holbeck said. "(Schopp is) willing to stand up and say, you know what, it's just not realistic. And I applaud that."

Brandon Valley Superintendent David Pappone noted No Child Left Behind was supposed to be updated in 2008. Because the law remains in effect, schools everywhere are being forced to strive toward an increasingly unattainable goal.

"When it was passed, nobody would have guessed we would have gotten this far down the road," Pappone said.

Schopp insisted she remains committed to holding schools accountable and will continue to enforce sanctions on failing schools.

"It's not like we are snubbing our noses at No Child Left Behind," she said.

— Josh Verges
Argus Leader



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