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Obama emancipates Georgia from No Child Left Behind

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BY RACHEL CITRIN

Almost a decade after the No Child Left Behind Act was passed, President Barack Obama released Georgia from the provisions of the law. Many teachers and students were pleased with this exemption and hope that, as a result, focus in schools will shift from test scores to student learning.

“It will allow teachers to teach with testing not being the only thing that matters,” Georgia Department of Education spokesman Matt Cardoza said. “English and science will count the same amount as math. Teachers will feel like what they teach matters.”

Passed in 2002 with enthusiastic support from former President George W. Bush, NCLB set academic standards that all public schools had to meet in order to receive federal funding known as Title I. To measure progress and receive funding, all public schools were required to administer a statewide standardized test to students annually. The goal of NCLB was for schools to display Adequate Yearly Progress. NCLB held teachers accountable when students did not meet the standards.

Though the government deemed this act necessary, many teachers disagreed with it.

“I was never a huge fan of NCLB,” English teacher Scott Stephens said. “The biggest problem was that it penalized schools over something they had no control over. It did not take into account individual differences in schools.”

World history teacher George Darden agreed.

“I’m not a fan of the overall standards movement,” Darden said. “Every single reform effort dating back to about 20 years is similar, but they have become more rigid and oppressive. All of these reforms take decisions away from teachers and administration who work in the classroom. It disempowers those who actually work with the students.”

Some parents are similarly happy about the changes and hope for new teaching strategies.

“I think that it is good that Georgia is no longer held to unrealistic goals,” Grady parent Anne McGlamry said. “It misled people and unfairly labeled schools as failing that were not even close to failing. I hope now teachers won’t be teaching to the test. There can be more creativity and flexibility.”

As of Feb. 6, Georgia and nine other states were approved by Obama to be freed from NCLB. These 10 states requested Elementary and Secondary Education Act flexibility on Nov. 14 to gain more freedom in teaching with requirements set by the state.

Cardoza hopes with NCLB gone, teaching will become more effective.

“NCLB had many flaws, such as teaching to the test,” Cardoza said. Getting us away from it will be much better for teaching and student performance.”

Though Cardoza is optimistic that eliminating NCLB will help education improve, many teachers are still skeptical.

“I don’t think that it will affect how teachers teach,” Stephens said. “It may have affected how stressed out teachers and students were during test time, but they will figure out another test.”

The ESEA waiver that Georgia was granted allowed the state to be exempted from NCLB. It requires the Georgia Department of Education to begin to identify Priority Schools, designated by a school’s lack of progress; Focus Schools, schools with a large gap between high-achieving and low-achieving subgroups; and Reward Schools, high-performing and high-progress schools. They will select these schools using graduation and achievement data from all core areas by the end of the school year.

Priority and Focus schools will replace the current Needs Improvement Schools, and Reward Schools will replace the current Distinguished Schools. In addition, Alert Schools, schools with significant deficits in subgroup graduation rates or with subject area concerns, will be identified based on an evaluation of their performances.

Cardoza said there will be more in-depth ways of identifying schools as Priority, Focus or Reward.

“There will still be tests, but there will also be other factors used to evaluate teachers,” Cardoza said. “For example, we will take into account graduation and attendance rates and how many people score a 3, 4 and 5 on Advanced Placement tests.”

For statewide accountability, next year Georgia will begin using the College and Career Ready Performance Index as the standard for preparedness.

Darden, like Stephens, still feels that even with NCLB gone, teaching styles will remain very similar.

“For students and teachers at Grady, there will not be much of a difference,” Darden said. “The condition in Georgia will continue to be the same, but now the process will be required by the state instead of the federal government. Because of the waiver, teaching styles, the environment of high-stress testing, funding and accountability are essentially unchanged. The only difference is that it is controlled by the state.”

Thomas Cox, a Grady parent and lawyer, agreed there may not be much modification in high schools.

“I doubt that education will change at the high school level because I think most high school teachers do not have the [Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests] to deal with,” Cox said. “I hope that in middle schools and in elementary schools, though, they will return to focus on developing creativity, writing and teaching things in context rather than just drilling for the test.”

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Obama emancipates Georgia from No Child Left Behind