Wayland Superintendent Responds to NCLB Waiver

The No Child Left Behind law put "inappropriate" labels on schools.

Wayland Public Schools Superintendent Paul Stein said the recently granted waiver of the No Child Left Behind law will allow Wayland schools to more appropriately tailor its efforts to improving and meeting the needs of its students.

President Barack Obama announced last week that he will free 10 states, including Massachusetts, from the "strict and sweeping" requirements of the controversial No Child Left Behind law, according to The Associated Press.

Enacted a decade ago with widespread bipartisan support, No Child Left Behind requires all students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014. Its provisions require students to take a standardized test that determines if the school will receive Title I funding, based on whether the school has made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

“The way the No Child Left Behind law was working was that a very high percentage of schools … were essentially being put on improvement plans of some sort," Stein said. "It was getting very hard to close the gap to reach the 100 percent proficiency rate by 2014.”

Stein said the goals of NCLB are admirable, but the law created "inappropriate" labels by which high performing schools received "Needs improvement" marks because of the performance of small subgroups.

"I think too many schools in the state were being mislabeled as under-performing and that wasn’t a fair label," Stein said. "Every school has areas of improvement, but to call some of the highest performing schools in the state in need of improvement …"

In Wayland, both and had been given labels of "needs improvement or restructuring," Stein said. When NCLB labeled schools as if they were under-performing, it authorized "dramatic" changes -- such as restructuring the school or changing the entire staff, including the principal. Such changes for the "needs improvement" schools in Wayland, Stein said, were disproportionate to the problem.

“This was starting to be a test where everybody was failing," Stein said, pointing out that NCLB essentially defined schools like those in Wayland by their subgroups. "It wasn’t telling you enough.”

Stein was quick to point out that Wayland does need to work to bring those subgroups into the realm of high achievement. In fact, he said focusing on subgroups was one feature of NCLB that excited him a decade ago when it was passed.

"There was an excitement that the law was having everyone look at the subgroups … it’s important to look at those numbers separately," Stein said. "Making sure every kid succeeds in school -- that’s a valuable goal to have. I was happy to see that education would be [addressing] the achievement gap across the schools."

But since it didn't work out as well as Stein hoped, he said he's happy to see this waiver. It means Wayland can still focus on those subgroups but do so in a more directed and appropriate manner.

“We did not need to have dramatic, drastic changes in our schools," Stein said. "We needed to be able to focus our resources on the kids who needed the help. The past law just assumed a single approach no matter what the level of overall need.”

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) requested the waiver late last year. As part of obtaining the waiver, the ESE submitted a plan addressing how Massachusetts would continue to pursue high educational standards. That plan outlines the state's goal of closing the proficiency gap by 2017.

Elizabeth Leaver contributed to this story.


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