The Mississippi Board of Education voted last month to apply for a waiver in hopes of getting relief from some of the requirements of No Child Left Behind.
The Obama administration unveiled a plan in September to give states waivers from some of the more unrealistic and controversial aspects of the 2001 act, including the requirement that all students be proficient by 2014—the next school year.
Susan Womack, executive director of Parents for Public Schools of Greater Jackson, told the Jackson Free Press last month that the law has led to schools emphasizing standardized testing and "skill-and-drill" learning in targeted subjects while other areas suffered.
"When No Child Left Behind was adopted, and we began to place such strong emphasis in the early grades on reading and math scores—performance scores—we saw a lot of narrowing of the curriculum, so that a lot more emphasis was being placed on reading and math, a lot less emphasis was placed on science and social studies," Womack said. "... We've seen schools eliminate music and recess to give teachers more classroom time to prep children for tests, and this is not good for children."
The buzzword for the waiver program is flexibility—states must still show their students are making progress in the spirit of NCLB, but they can get relief from some of the most unpopular requirements of the law. Whereas NCLB required all students to score as "proficient" by 2014, the waiver program should allow states to set more achievable goals for improvement, even if 100 percent of students are not proficient.
This is good news for Mississippi, since only about 50 to 65 percent of students currently score proficient or higher on the state's standardized tests. The possible rankings are minimal, basic, proficient and advanced. Each state makes its own standardized tests, so there is no national definition of "proficiency."
The waivers should also allow states to recognize schools that are making progress, even if they have not yet reached benchmark test scores. NCLB has been criticized in the past for identifying schools as "failing" if their scores are low, even if they are making progress year to year.
Womack said the NCLB waivers might help some, but she doesn't think they go far enough. Lawmakers need to overhaul the law and make more changes, she said. Politicians and government officials have debated how to fix NCLB for years, but have not yet come to an agreement to put through Congress.
The Mississippi Department of Education plans to submit its waiver request in February 2012 for review in the spring. The department will hold a series of town hall meetings within the next month to seek input on its submission.