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Here's to a new chance for public education

In 2001, former President George W. Bush proposed an educational reform bill that passed both houses of Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support.

The No Child Left Behind Act was an appropriate expression of horror over the failure of American public education to serve all kinds of students.

In practice, it didn't work.

All students were to take the same standardized tests. All schools were to make "adequate yearly progress." All children were to read at grade level by a date certain . . . or there would be consequences.

But many states couldn't meet the tests, and in the end, the consequence was that 37 states, including West Virginia, have received waivers from the requirements of the act.

Those states are now free to develop their own unique systems to hold themselves accountable for educational results.

Free to shift the focus away from students performing at grade level, West Virginia will now concentrate on making sure students are ready for college or a career.

Instead of holding schools accountable for making Adequate Yearly Progress, the state will evaluate their effectiveness according to a new West Virginia Accountability Index.

"Under the waiver, schools will be judged based on progress in several areas, instead of a blanket pass or fail," the Daily Mail's Shay Maunz reported. "They also will be recognized for growth on any level."

Not much detail is available about how progress is to be measured in what areas.

But the state will use these indicators to classify schools into one of five categories:

* "Priority schools," meaning persistently low test scores and in need of extra resources;

* "Focus schools, " with big achievement gaps between students;

* "Support schools," meaning they may exhibit progress but a majority of subgroups are not on target;

* "Transition" schools; and

* "Success schools."

Teachers will have more flexibility in using federal funds, and will spend less time on federal paperwork. There will be more local control.

Accountability will focus more on individual student growth, and both parents and teachers will be held accountable for that.

It's not clear how much information the West Virginia Accountability Index will give the public, or whether a bottom-up approach will produce better results than the top-down No Child Left Behind approach produces.

Here's hoping state policymakers can achieve what federally mandated policies failed to achieve.

Make no mistake. That high standard, annoying and impossible as it was, should remain the goal.



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