Shumlin wants out of No Child Left Behind
By Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Press Bureau | September 26,2011
MONTPELIER — Vermont officials say they plan to seek a federal waiver that would shield schools and teachers from punitive sanctions imposed by the landmark education act called No Child Left Behind.
In a press conference announcing the waivers Friday, President Barack Obama said states will still be required to adhere to federally approved testing standards — standards designed to expose and uproot underperforming schools.
But instead of grading student performance using standardized tests alone — as is called for in No Child Left Behind — schools will have at their disposal a broader array of assessment tools.
“One test at one point in time doesn’t necessarily provide an accurate picture of how well a student is learning.” Commissioner of Education Armando Vilaseca said last week. “We can use a number of different tools — standardized tests and other guidelines — that we think will provide a much better picture of how well our children are being taught.”
Vilaseca and Gov. Peter Shumlin sent a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan earlier this month in which they outline shortcomings in the existing federal guidelines, which rely almost exclusively on standardized test scores to gauge school performance.
The “one-size-fits-all requirements and sanctions imposed” by NCLB, Vilaseca and Shumlin write, result in “derogatory labels and punitive sanctions (that) are demoralizing to students, teachers, principals and families.”
They say the assessment criteria are especially unfair to students that are “economically disadvantaged, those who learn differently, and minority and non-English speaking immigrant children.”
Vilaseca says the act’s impossibly high standards will soon expose virtually every school in the state with the threat of federal sanctions. By 2014, Vilaseca says, 100 percent of Vermont schools will receive a “failing” grade under the NCLB guidelines.
“Obviously there’s something wrong with a system that tells us every school in our state is a failing school,” Vilaseca says.
Fayneese Miller, chairwoman of the Vermont Board of Education, says the proposed assessments standards in Vermont’s soon-to-be-drafted waiver request will paint a fuller picture of Vermont students’ performance.
The use of portfolios, for instance, will measure a child’s academic standing not just at a particular point in time, but track her progress as she moves through the public-school system.
“We want to make sure that whatever evaluation criteria we are putting in place, it’s a multi-method approach, and that we’re measuring the effectiveness of teachers in ways other than just test scores,” Miller says.
Vilaseca says the receipt of the waiver could provide Vermont with the flexibility it needs to quicken the “transformation” program initiated in the Vermont school system about two years ago. The program seeks to broaden the range of learning activities for which students can earn credits.
At Fair Haven High School, for instance, Jess DeCarolis and Sarah Kiefer run an alternative education program in which students can earn math credits by doing things like helping design and build a shed.
“It’s about finding ways to connect students with learning in a way that’s meaningful to them,” DeCarolis says.
Vilaseca says more flexible assessment criteria will allow the kind of customized learning plans that can turn otherwise disaffected youth into engaged, successful students.
“It doesn’t have to be about kids schlepping from classroom to classroom for four years anymore,” Vilaseca says. “We can create personalized curricula that tap into the passion of an individual child, and that’s how we get our kids to realize their potential.”