Would waiver from federal law help students in Minnesota?
The state with both the nation’s best ACT scores and one of its worst achievement gaps between students of color and their white peers is re-thinking how it measures accountability in the classroom.
Minnesota education officials want a waiver to replace some requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind Act with a new system they say is a better, fairer way to measure how our schools are performing.
Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius is championing changes that focus not just on test scores but also on other measures of student growth.
The waiver replaces federal mandates with more local control, she says. It’s a smarter way to measure; it’s more collaborative and allows better sharing of best practices, by “shining a bright light” on schools doing the best work rather than just emphasizing punitive measures against poor performers.
The initiative’s goal is to reduce the gap by 50 percent in six years by helping lower-performing groups, including students of color, special education students and English Language Learners, achieve a higher rate of growth. But the new approach also says all students have to grow, those performing well, those below grade level and the “bubble kids” - those performing near grade level.
The plan also will give credit where it is due, Cassellius said. Improvements that wouldn’t register under the rigid “No Child” approach - even if a student is making rapid progress - would count under the new system.
No Child Left Behind made it hard for our school systems to hide their failures. But its one-size-fits-all approach to accountability - in which even some schools perceived as excellent were labeled as failing - merits discussion. We look forward to learning more about how a waiver would make a difference for Minnesota’s students and give school leaders more tools to help them improve.
— St. Paul Pioneer Press