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RI seeks federal ed reform flexibility

January 7, 2012

PROVIDENCE — The state Department of Education is looking for public comment on its effort to seek more flexibility under the federal No Child Left Behind education reform act of 2001.
The issue will be discussed on Monday, Jan. 9, from 6-8 p.m. at the Providence Career and Technical Academy, 41 Fricker St., near Central High School.
Rhode Island is approaching a deadline included in the No Child Left Behind Act that requires all students in public schools to be proficient in English and Mathematics by 2014. In the years since the Act was put into place, schools have adopted uniform performance standards for their students and also implemented a process of annual assessments to track student success in achieving the benchmarks.
Although many schools have shown progress in achieving compliance with the Act, many others in urban communities burdened with high rates of poverty and greater student need are not expected to be in full compliance by 2014.
Monday’s forum is the second scheduled by Deborah Gist, state Commissioner of Secondard and Elementary Education, to discuss the state's intent to seek "flexibility" in meeting the federal requirements.
In a statement on the approaching deadline, Gist said it has become apparent that the laws treats all schools alike, "regardless of whether they miss one target or many."
The law measures a school's success in teaching students with a "snapshot" of their performance on a standardized test, Gist added. The test is then used to develop a percentage showing student success in meeting the standards for that school. Gist also pointed to the lack of clarity on whether remedies triggered by low performance are successful in generating student improvement as another concern with the the Act.
The same concerns have been raised by school officials in distressed districts such as Woonsocket for years. Such districts face higher rates of student mobility — students who attend local schools for a time and then leave — and also experience greater demands for English as a Second Language and special needs services. Woonsocket has implemented a number of programs aimed at improving student performance through before- and after-school interventions as well as multiple pathways to success through e-learning and out-of-school achievement opportunities.
Gist said the U.S. Department of Education is allowing states to "request flexibility" regarding some of the No Child Left Behind Act performance requirements.
"We have notified the U.S. Department of Education that we intend to request flexibility in February," Gist said. "Flexibility for Rhode Island would mean major changes in our accountability and classification systems. These changes would allow us to strengthen our accountability system," she added.
While standing fast on accountability in student performance, Gist said the state Department of Education will be looking for ways to measure "the magnitude of gaps" in performance, rather than treating all missed targets equally.
"We are interested in using data other than state summative assessments; these data might include measures of school climate, teacher preparation, and the efficiency of professional development," she said.
The state also hopes to fine-tune interventions initiated for schools missing targets so that they will better meet the needs of a particular school, according to Gist.
Elliot Krieger, spokesman for the Department of Education, noted that the Department held an initial hearing on the plan Dec. 12. The state Department of Education will hold a third forum on the topic on Feb. 1 that will include a review of a draft copy of the application to be submitted to the federal Department of Education.
Written comments on the request can also be submitted directly to the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education at 255 Westminster St., Providence, R.I. 02903-3400.

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