Students at George Whittell High School and Zephyr Cove Elementary School might not notice anything new when they start classes next week, but the wheels of education reform began turning when Nevada became the 33rd state to recieve a No Child Left Behind waiver from the U.S. Department of Education on Aug. 8.
According to Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction James Guthrie, it will take time for the waiver, which frees Nevada schools from the requirements of the No Child Left Behind federal law, to impact the schools, but it's still a positive step forward for the state.
"It's absolutely moving in the right direction. This is a good thing we have this waiver. We now have the opportunity to develop a much better accountability system than we had," Guthrie said.
Under No Child Left Behind, schools had to reach an ever-increasing bar for student performance. Falling short of that bar would automatically classify the school as failing to meet the federal adequate yearly progress measure, or AYP. By 2014, all students were expected to be 100 percent proficient in reading and math, an all but unattainable goal for some schools, Zephyr Cove Elementary School Principal Nancy Cauley said.
The new evaluation system that will replace the AYP will take test scores and annual growth into account. It's called the Nevada School Performance Framework, and it will offer a much fairer, more detailed look at what makes a school successful, Douglas County School District Director of Assessments and Grants Brian Frazier said.
"AYP was your school was either satisfactory or unsatisfactory. We're expanding our view of what it means to be a successful school," Frazier said.
Frazier stressed the focus on growth as very important for the new accountability framework.
"When we look at how students progress, not all students move at the same rates at the same time, but we all have to be proficient by 12th grade. We want to make sure all our students are growing each year, that we're moving forward," he said.
More detailed teacher evaluations that take into account student achievement and other feedback will also eventually go into effect, Guthrie said.
Changes at Whittell High School and Zephyr Cove Elementary School will occur slowly as more information trickles in from the Superintendent's office.
"This is something we believe will be a benefit, but we don't know all the finer points and details yet," Cauley said.
Six months after the Obama Administration announced the first round of waivers in February, almost three-quarters of the states in the U.S. have opted out of the No Child Left Behind law. A report published in July by the Center for American Progress found that most of the states that applied for the waiver changed their policies and practices significantly from those under the federal law.