In order to get the waiver, Utah had to propose its own system for monitoring schools and students. After several years of requesting the waiver, and refining the system, the federal government finally agreed.
“Many of the parts of No Child Left Behind are not possible to attain,” Helen M. Knight Elementary School Principal Taryn Kay said.
As an example, Kay pointed to the wording in the law that required 100 per cent of students to test as proficient in the areas of language arts and math.
“When you have a test with results on a bell curve it is statistically impossible to have 100 per cent of your students proficient,” Kay said. “Then you wouldn’t have a curve.”
Instead of the federally mandated Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) measurements, schools will now be following protocol set out by the Utah Comprehensive Assessment Plan (UCAP). The new model has been garnering Utah nationwide attention, according to Kay. “Many states are looking to Utah for what we’re doing, how we did it, and using us as a model,” she said.
Though Utah will still be required to abide by certain aspects of the original language of No Child Left Behind, there will be several significant changes. One of those key changes is the fact that Utah schools will no longer be judged by two separate accountability systems.
“It was really confusing to try to explain,” Kay said. She said that it was possible for a school to meet all the requirements of one system, while failing to meet the requirements of the other.
The new plan will also mean that there will be no schools in the program improvement. The program improvement was meant for schools that use Title I funding. Title I funding is federal money that is provided to schools that serve a high percentage of low-income students. Helen M. Knight Elementary is the only school in the Grand County School District that accepts those funds.
Without the waiver to NCLB, schools that fail to meet the 100 percent proficiency target could be placed in Program Improvement, which could entail corrective actions and forced restructuring. The waiver will also provide more flexibility in the ways that districts are able to spend their Title I funds, Kay said.
The new system will assign schools a score. Those scores will still be based on standardized assessment tests. However, unlike NCLB, the plan will not focus strictly on how well all the students compare to others based on a single test. Instead, it will also factor in student growth, Kay said.
She explained that a student’s individual scores can be compared to their scores from the previous year to determine whether they made an acceptable amount of growth. So, a student who tests as below proficient one year may still score below proficient the next, but if they show an acceptable amount of growth, the school will receive credit.
A school’s scores will be posted online for the public. They will also be used to rank schools, Kay said. The highest performing schools will be designated as “reward schools.” That designation will get a school a press release as well as a certificate of achievement. “Of course, what you really get . . . is increased student learning and achievement,” Kay said. “And the intrinsic feeling that you’re doing a really good job for kids. Those are the important things.”
On the other end of the spectrum lie the priority and focus schools. The fifteen lowest performing Title I schools will be designated as priority. Those schools will be subject to a variety of consequences, designed to help them improve. The 10 percent of schools above that will be given a focus designation. Schools that fall under those designations will be given an additional $100,000 to help them fulfill the improvement requirements. However, Kay said that amount is not sufficient to meet all the requirements that are imposed.
According to Kay, if a school does not meet the minimum score that the state expects, they will aim to reduce the gap between their current proficiency and expected proficiency by half in six years. “You would set goals based on those figures,” Kay said.
“It’s the first thing in assessment that I actually, really think is good, in terms of how we’re holding students to a growth percentile that’s realistic rather than expecting every kid to achieve at some huge level,” Kay said. Kay praised the fact that, with the new system, even gifted students who generally test well will be expected to perform at the same growth level.
Grand County School Superintendent Scott Crane also praised the new system. “The difficult thing with AYP was that if you were in a school that just happened to have lots of smart kids, you always looked really good,” he said. “With this system it makes it so if you have a staff that’s really working hard . . . and they improve, they will get recognized, and you’ll see the growth.”