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Waiver helps ease standards

Allows flexibility on law’s requirements

POSTED: February 15, 2012 4:00 a.m.

Dawson County school officials applauded the recent federal waiver that frees Georgia from the requirements of the No Child Left Behind act and grants it flexibility in how to prepare and evaluate students.

"I'm extremely happy amendments are being made to the original law," said Dawson County School Superintendent Keith Porter.

"I'm grateful we are moving away from a single standardized test that determines our [adequate yearly progress] standing. This is a positive step."

Porter also believes the shift will allow schools to move away from "concentrating on just basic skills" and will let them focus on a "more well-rounded education."

Georgia was one of 10 states to receive the waiver last week from the Obama administration.

Under the waiver, standardized test scores still will affect schools' annual evaluations, but the pressure decreases significantly and allows schools to focus on preparing children for college and careers.

As part of the waiver, schools must set new goals for improving achievement among all students and focus attention and resources on the schools struggling the most. The best-performing schools will also be rewarded.

Critics of No Child Left Behind had argued that its goals were impractical and generated a teach-to-the-test approach that frustrated educators, parents and students.

"I am glad we are moving away from using terminologies like ‘failing schools' or ‘needs improvement schools,'" Porter said. "Now it actually allows for assistance to schools without there being any negativity."

However, proponents of the No Child policy have argued that critics simply don't want accountability.

Porter's response to that is the waiver still provides "a great deal of accountability."

He explained that accountability is a part of the basic criteria in Georgia's educational standards.

The waiver is expected to start affecting schools immediately. It removes the standardized test as a significant measure.

The big picture suggests that student testing will no longer be a make-it or-break-it effort with the state's new freedom.

Gov. Nathan Deal summarized the waiver's effects when he said it gives Georgia "the flexibility we need to pursue our goals of student achievement."

State School Superintendent John Barge agreed.

"No longer will we be bound by the narrow definitions of success found in No Child Left Behind," Barge said in a statement.

"We will now be able to hold schools accountable and reward them for the work they do in all subjects with all students."

Since President Obama's announcement last week, a total of 28 other states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have signaled that they, too, plan to seek waivers.

DCN regional staff contributed to this story.

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