Alabama education officials have announced that the US Department of Education has granted their application for a waiver from most of the No Child Left Behind Act’s requirements, which means the state will now be free to design their own student assessment framework. Evan Belanger of AL.com reports that a new goal called PLAN 2020, which aims to get 90% of Alabama high school graduates college-ready by the year 2020, will take the place of NCLB.
The announcement was made by the State Superintendent of Education Tommy Bice who praised the Bush-era comprehensive education reform measure but said that the standards it forced states to adopt lacked flexibility. Bice said that NCLB also failed to acknowledge gains made by struggling schools that have consistently outperformed their previous results yet didn’t quite meet the requirements set out by NCLB.
PLAN 2020 is meant to rectify this by giving schools credit for effort as long as they show steady improvement.
“The waiver from NCLB is just one part of the overall PLAN 2020 approach,” he said. “Ultimately, what will result is a system that uses the college- and career-readiness of its graduates as its capstone measure of success.”
Melinda Maddox, assistant superintendent for research, information and data services, said assessments under PLAN 2020 will better identify weaknesses in education progress than No Child Left Behind’s Adequate Yearly Progress measure.
Maddox said that the focus on PLAN 2020 will be similar to the now-retired NCLB: closing achievement gaps, improving graduation rates and making sure that students leave high school ready to take on college-level work. Maddox added that the state hopes to sharply reduce the number of students who require remediation prior to enrolling in college or entering the workforce.
According to the White House, 47 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Bureau of Indian Affairs have requested waivers from No Child Left Behind in exchange for state-developed plans to prepare students for college and career and “focus aid on the neediest students and support effective teaching and leadership.”
The U.S. Department of Education has now approved requests from 38 states and the District of Columbia.
Granting NCLB waivers was supposed to be a stop-gap measure to help states until a full reauthorization of No Child Left Behind was passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama. However, with the House and the Senate divided along partisan lines, it isn’t likely that comprehensive education reform legislation will be on the President’s desk anytime soon. What was thought to be temporary could prove to be a permanent arrangement, with states adopting their own individual reform plans under looser standards set by the Department of Education as a condition of granting the waiver.