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Missouri applies for waiver from No Child Left Behind

This first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 21, 2012 - Update on earlier story: Missouri education officials today filed their application for the state to be freed from the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind mandates.

The application went through several versions, with comments and suggestions accepted through the end of last week, following a vote by the State Board of Education to take part in the second round of waivers, along with Illinois and other states. Eleven states received waivers in the first round announced earlier this year.

You can view the state's application here.

Our earlier story:

The Missouri State Board of Education voted Tuesday to seek a waiver from the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind act, using the state’s standards to measure school effectiveness instead of those coming from Washington.

After a lengthy process, which included three versions of the waiver application and comments pro and con from education groups around the state, the board voted to submit Missouri’s application, subject to final edits. The deadline for the waiver, originally Tuesday, has been pushed back by one week; state education officials said comments on the final draft of the application will be accepted through Friday.

So far, 11 states have sought and received waivers from the federal Department of Education to use their own measures of student achievement instead of the requirements of No Child Left Behind. That law, enacted under the George W. Bush administration, called for 100 percent of U.S. students to be proficient or better on standardized tests by 2014 – a yardstick that most experts have said is unrealistic and would be impossible to reach.

The result, educators have complained, is that many schools doing well have been labeled failures, often because a particular subgroup of students has scored poorly on the required tests while the school or school district overall has done fine.

If Missouri’s waiver is approved by federal education officials, it could go into effect as soon as this fall. Missouri is one of 28 states, including Illinois, that have indicated they would submit waiver applications in a second round.

In a news release after Tuesday morning’s vote, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said:

“State education officials see the flexibility waiver as an opportunity to redefine and align federal accountability requirements to the state’s updated Missouri School Improvement Program, which is designed to ensure all students graduate from high school ready for college and careers. The state plan also aims to guide student academic performance into the top 10 nationally by the year 2020.”

Chris Nicastro, the state’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said that if the waiver is granted, Missouri schools will be able to move faster to improve classroom achievement, and families will be able to understand how their students are doing much more easily.

“Our work has produced an accountability system for our state that reflects the strong foundation of the Missouri School Improvement Program over the past two decades,” Nicastro said. “We believe we are putting forward an ambitious, yet achievable, plan designed to improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps, increase equity and improve the quality of instruction.”

The Illinois State Board of Education also approved a waiver application on Tuesday, with a goal of cutting in half achievement gaps and the percent of students not making progress by 2018.

“Under this waiver, Illinois will move forward with a comprehensive accountability system that uses multiple measures of gauging student performance to ensure college and career readiness,” said state Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch. “This new system will emphasize student progress over time to better drive instruction and track educational effectiveness.”

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