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August 19. 2012 11:34PM

Officials may seek 'No Child' waiver

State education officials are moving closer to applying for a waiver from No Child Left Behind proficiency requirements — a 180-degree change in plans from earlier this year.

“We have had several discussions with education leaders, and sent a white paper to federal education officials, who were very encouraging, saying we should move ahead on this,” New Hampshire Deputy Commissioner of Education Paul Leather said Sunday night. “Now we are looking to make sure we reach out to all the stakeholders for their input before we make a final decision.”

Leather said those stakeholders include local school board members, business groups and legislative groups. The deadline to apply for the waiver is Sept. 6.

Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas said he has yet to be contacted by education officials about applying for a waiver, but he welcomed the idea.

“That sounds like the waiver I've been after for the last two years,” said Gatsas. “I would welcome them throwing their weight behind applying for any waiver that allows us to delay testing kids until they learn English and are able to understand the tests. I'll talk to (U.S. Education Secretary) Arne Duncan, I'll talk to the President — I'll talk to whoever will listen about what that would mean to this city.”

Just last February, state education officials in February said they would not seek a waiver, opting instead to develop an accountability system to improve student and teacher performance.

State Education Commissioner Virginia M. Barry said last February that a task force of educators, administrators, parents, teachers and others spent four months evaluating whether to apply for a waiver, saying in a statement: “New Hampshire has reviewed all the options and we believe the best course is to continue to develop our own plan that works for our state, our schools, our educators and our schools. New Hampshire needs an education system that works for New Hampshire students.”

Factoring into that decision was a requirement that the state test and report results of the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) — standardized tests given to all students, including those who recently moved to New Hampshire with little or no ability to speak or read English.

In 2011, New Hampshire amended its own state accountability system to first determine whether a student can read the test in English before they take it.

Leather said the potential reversal by state education officials on applying for the waiver got started after they received strong encouragement from Arne Duncan.

“This is really the third round for applying for these waivers,” said Leather. “As a state, we've always felt that maintaining local control is very important. We met with Arne Duncan in April, and he was very interested in what we are doing here, and suggested it may be enough for a waiver. He encouraged us to apply. After that, we began looking at the possibility.”

Leather said Duncan and other officials were interested in New Hampshire's efforts to create a teacher evaluation system that school districts could look at as a guideline, rather than as a mandated requirement.

“We submitted a white paper to federal education officials on the model, and we received positive feedback on it,” said Leather.

If the state applies for a waiver, and one is granted, New Hampshire would be allowed to institute accountability standards it develops as a state, not the federal requirement that all students be proficient in math and reading scores by 2014. If a waiver is secured, Leather said the state would work toward creating an accountability system that zeroes in on improving the lowest-performing 15 percent of school districts in the state.

Over 70 percent of schools in the Granite State were categorized as 'in need of improvement' last year.

pfeely@unionleader.com


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