States get more time to bolster struggling schools

Jennifer C. Kerr
Associated Press

Washington — States will have more time to identify failing schools as part of new Obama administration rules aimed at supporting troubled public schools and students who are struggling.

The rules, released Monday, provide a broad framework for states as they design new accountability systems to evaluate schools, to improve ones that aren’t adequately educating students and to narrow achievement gaps. It’s a key part of the bipartisan education law passed almost one year ago and signed into law by President Barack Obama to replace the widely criticized No Child Left Behind Act.

Under the law, states may design accountability systems that consider measures beyond test scores and high school graduation rates. They may decide how much weight to give to each of those indicators of success — and others such as school climate, advanced coursework and chronic absenteeism — as long as they measure the performance of all students, including “sub-groups of students” such as racial minorities, children from low-income families, and special education students.

Education Secretary John B. King Jr., says the department considered concerns from states, Congress, civil rights groups, educators and others in drafting the rules. “That feedback resulted in a better regulation,” King said in a phone call with reporters.

Republicans and teachers unions had complained that the draft rules released in May didn’t provide states and districts with sufficient time to assess schools in need of help.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said he will review the final rules before deciding if Congress needs to intervene. Alexander — a chief architect of the new education law — said he would have moved to overturn the earlier version of the regulation “because it was not authorized by the new law, and included provisions specifically prohibited by the new law.”

The new law overhauling No Child shifts significant control over education policy back to the states. Students will still be required to take annual math and reading tests in third through eighth grade and once in high school. But, other measures of student growth and learning could be considered when evaluating school performance.

States will have to single out the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools and high schools with graduation rates below 67 percent. Under the new regulation, though, states will get an additional year — until the 2018-19 school year — to identify those schools. And schools with “consistently underperforming” subgroups of students will have to be identified by the 2019-20 school year.

The accountability systems will have to provide an overall rating for schools — an overall rating — but also specific information for parents and the public about how schools performed on the individual measures that states choose to incorporate into how they evaluate schools.

The ratings would not have to be a grade such as “A,” “B,” or “F.” Instead, states and districts could choose to rate schools in broad categories — such as those in need of comprehensive improvement or targeted support — or they can choose others ways to rate their schools.

Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, said it was clear the department listened to concerns from school chiefs across the country. “We look forward to working with the new administration to offer states the guidance, flexibility and stability they need to create plans under this new law,” Minnich said.

It’s not clear what the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump might do with the regulation. King said he wouldn’t speculate on what others might do in the future, but he added, “states and districts are eager to move beyond the outdated No Child Left Behind” and begin implementing the new law.

States have to submit their plans for their new accountability systems to the department by either April 3 or Sept. 18 of next year.