Fourth-graders Lauren Ehrlich, left, and Ava Scarborough work on a project during class Monday afternoon at Soda Creek Elementary School. Routt County School District leaders are welcoming the news that Colorado has earned a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Photo by John F. Russell

Fourth-graders Lauren Ehrlich, left, and Ava Scarborough work on a project during class Monday afternoon at Soda Creek Elementary School. Routt County School District leaders are welcoming the news that Colorado has earned a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Routt County educators welcome No Child Left Behind exemption

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Fourth-grader Taylor Fieldind writes down ideas while working with classmate James Berntsen during a class project Monday at Soda Creek Elementary School.

— Routt County school district leaders are welcoming news that they now will adhere to a single accountability system after the Colorado Department of Education learned last week that it will receive a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The waiver will allow Colorado to use its own accountability system next year in place of federal accountability requirements that Routt County educators previously have called cumbersome and redundant.

“We found it confusing to be deemed failing by one system and a success on another,” Steamboat Springs Superintendent Brad Meeks said Friday about his district’s failure to meet the U.S. Department of Education’s standards of Adequate Yearly Progress during the same school year for which Steamboat was “Accredited with Distinction” by the state for the second year in a row.

Despite positive growth in their standardized test scores, no Routt County school district last year made Adequate Yearly Progress, which tracked the academic performance of specific subgroups of students including whites, blacks, Hispanics, students with limited English proficiency, economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities.

Only 46 percent of Colorado schools made Adequate Yearly Progress in the 2010-11 school year, down from 62 percent the year before. Educators attributed the drop to ever-increasing target scores for the federal accountability system that requires 100 percent of students to be proficient in math and reading by 2014.

Failure to meet Adequate Yearly Progress had consequences this year for Steamboat, which had to earmark $10,000, or 10 percent, of its federal Title 1 dollars this school year for professional development to improve reading scores at Strawberry Park and Soda Creek elementary schools because of their failure to meet Adequate Yearly Progress two years in a row in that subject.

“The state’s accountability system is poised to assist school districts, not punish them,” Meeks said as he praised Colorado’s release from No Child Left Behind requirements.

Colorado was one of 10 states to earn an exemption from the federal accountability system.

In a news release announcing it had secured the waiver, the Colorado Department of Education said the state “will now have one, unified accountability system which will better streamline schools’ improvement work and it will be much easier for parents and the public to fully understand.”

The Colorado Department of Education has in recent years made more testing data and school performance results available to parents and the public via its website. In 2009, the department also approved a new accreditation system that evaluates districts on academic growth and how well their schools prepare students for postsecondary education and careers based on their CSAP and ACT scores.

South Routt Superintendent Scott Mader said the new accountability system already is familiar and strong.

“It always complicates things a little bit when you work with both the state and the federal government,” Mader said. “We have a good accreditation system here in the state. We understand it and think it is fair.”

Less reporting

Paula Stephenson, director of the Colorado Rural Schools Caucus and a former Steamboat Springs School Board president, said Friday that the waiver also will save school districts precious hours they previously spent filing federal accountability reports related to Adequate Yearly Progress.

“We won’t have double reporting, and that’s a big deal right now for rural schools,” she said. “We’re swamped right now with reporting requirements, and this (waiver) will get rid of a huge burden.”

The Colorado Department of Education last year recognized the burden rural school districts — several of which have only a few staff members assigned to file state and federal accountability reports — carry as they implement new state accountability requirements. As a response, it formed a Rural Education Council that is expected to meet quarterly and strengthen the relationship between the state’s 142 rural districts and the Department of Education.

Stephenson said because states have unique education systems and requirements, it makes sense that they should be able to use their own accountability systems.

“Quite honestly, I think we have a better accountability system than (No Child Left Behind),” she said. “We use a growth model on a yearly basis that gives us a clear picture of how our students are progressing academically.”

Hayden Superintendent Mike Luppes said the easing of reporting requirements likely will be the biggest impact from the waiver.

“Hopefully, this change will eliminate a lot of the headache work we have in regards to the submissions to both the state and the feds,” he said. “The state has made a lot of progress in streamlining the reporting. It’s much better than it used to be, and it’s leading more and more to one seamless process.”

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com

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