AUGUSTA — Maine officials say they do not have enough time to meet a deadline for applying for a waiver from federal No Child Left Behind requirements, which means public schools will have to operate under the system for at least one more year.

The Obama administration announced in September that it would grant states some flexibility in meeting No Child Left Behind’s targets for student achievement, as long as the states create their own standards for accountability and school improvement.

Eleven states submitted plans during the first round of applications in November, and many more are expected to do so by the Feb. 28 deadline.

Maine officials had planned to be part of the second round, but the Maine Department of Education announced Monday that policymakers need more time.

“We cannot hurriedly create a new plan in Augusta and force it on schools and expect it to be embraced,” Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen said in a news release.

Bowen and New Hampshire Education Commissioner Virginia Barry wrote a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Monday to inform federal officials of their plans to continue working, independently, to develop new accountability systems.

No Child Left Behind requires that students take annual tests in math and reading in grades three through eight and once in high school.

It prescribes a series of interventions for schools whose students fail to meet targets in consecutive years, starting with improvement plans and ending with wholesale restructuring.

The law sets annual targets for the percentage of students who score “proficient,” with 100 percent to be proficent by 2014. No state is on track to meet that deadline. As the targets have risen, more schools have failed to keep up. These schools are then labeled as needing improvement and subject to additional scrutiny.

The Maine Department of Education’s news release called No Child Left Behind “unfair and unrealistic” and said that removing ineffective teachers and principals is not a solution for rural schools that are already hard to staff.

While Maine continues to develop its own accountability system, the U.S. Department of Education will allow the state to maintain this year’s targets for another year, rather than raising them, Maine Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin said. That should make it easier for schools to meet the targets.

The federal government has not set any deadlines for filing for waivers beyond Feb. 28, and Connerty-Marin said Maine education officials do not have a date in mind.

“On the one hand, we don’t want to rush into anything that might be only slightly better than what we had before,” Connerty-Marin said. “But on the other hand, we don’t want schools to be stuck with a system that nobody likes for a terribly long time.”

Maine officials had hoped to take pointers from the accountability plans submitted by states in the first round of applications. Connerty-Marin said they had expected decisions on those applications in December, but the federal government did not announce decisions until Thursday.

The U.S. Department of Education granted unconditional waivers to seven of the 11 states, conditional waivers to three more and rejected one application.

Bowen will appoint at least two working groups, Connerty-Marin said. One will study the various measures of student performance and growth that could be used to evaluate schools and educators. Another will determine how much support to offer struggling schools and the expectations for improvement by those schools.

Under any new accountability system, Maine would continue testing students annually, but test scores would be incorporated into a “growth model” that assesses how much progress individual students make in an academic year, rather than comparing one year’s students with the previous year’s, Connerty-Marin said.

Maine’s evaluation of schools is likely to include other measures besides test scores. Other possible factors include data from parent, teacher or student surveys; attendance, dropout or graduation rates; staff turnover; or data on parent engagement or school climate.

The Department of Education solicited opinions about those factors, as well as other aspects of the waiver application, at three public forums and through an online survey that gathered about 1,500 responses.

Maine’s proposal also must include plans for evaluating teachers and principals, to be developed with input from school employees. According to federal guidelines, the evaluations must incorporate student growth and provide feedback to teachers on improving instruction.

One of the pieces of legislation advocated by Gov. Paul LePage last week as part of a package of education reforms would require all districts to start evaluating teachers and principals.

The Department of Education would develop one or more models by next year for districts to use as they develop their own evaluation systems. The timeline in the legislation calls for districts to pilot the evaluations in 2014-15 and fully implement them by 2015-16 at the latest.

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Susan McMillan can be contacted at 621-5645 or at: [email protected]


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