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SD gets one-year extension on NCLB

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By Carson Walker

The U.S. Department of Education has granted a one-year extension to South Dakota and five other states to give them more time to meet provisions of No Child Left Behind.

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Congress passed the act in 2002 and it’s been due for reauthorization since 2007. President Barack Obama said in 2011 his administration would grant waivers from parts of the law to qualified states that set student expectations, create accountability for underperforming schools and come up with teacher and principal evaluations that factor in student growth.

Mary Stadick Smith, spokeswoman for the South Dakota Department of Education, said Monday the state already has previously received waivers that have helped educators come up with ways of evaluating school and student performance beyond just test scores.

“We’re still going to be looking at those test scores because they’re an indication of how we’re doing. But we worked with people in the field to come up with other indicators,” she said.

Among them: attendance and graduation rates and ACT college entry scores. In the coming years, academic growth will also be measured, which is whether a student is improving, Smith said.

Before the state was granted a waiver, school report cards listed on the state Education Department website were based on test scores but now include those other measurements, she said.

“The whole point was to allow states flexibility to create accountability systems that make sense. That’s what we’ve tried to do with our new systems, is to create that broader look at how schools are performing,” Smith said.

Jamie Nold, principal at Washington High School in Sioux Falls, said he welcomes the change in performance grading, so it’s not based on one test taken on one day, and also time to develop an accurate way of checking schools.

“I’d rather take time and get it right and ask for extensions,” he said.

Factoring in whether students are improving over time will help because as it is, a student can grow each year but still be marked as non-proficient, Nold said.

He’d also like to see the tests changed to account for more diverse schools like Washington that have a higher number of English-learning and special education students. Such diversity is a good thing but can hurt scores, Nold said.

“Our students graduate here having had contact with people from all over the world. But when it comes to purely testing, it does not paint a very accurate picture whatsoever,” he said.

In a letter to South Dakota Education Secretary Melody Schopp, the U.S. Department of Education said its decision to grant the waiver was based on its determination that the flexibility has helped the state reform student achievement.

The five other states granted an extension were Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Nevada and Virginia.

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