COLUMBIA — A waiver from key provisions of the No Child Left Behind law provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform education in South Carolina, said state schools Superintendent Mick Zais.
The U.S. Education Department announced Thursday that it approved waiver applications from South Carolina and five other states, plus the District of Columbia. States granted the waivers are exempt from the law’s requirements that all students score proficient on state-standardized math and reading tests by 2014, regardless of race, poverty, disability or ability to speak English.
All told, 32 states have now been granted waivers; four others have outstanding requests.
South Carolina’s waiver includes replacing the federal law’s all-or-nothing accountability system for schools with one that awards letter grades, from A to F, for performance and gives credit for progress. Zais said that flexibility creates a more understandable rating system.
Other changes include evaluating teachers based on student performance and other measures by the 2014-15 school year. According to its application, South Carolina would pilot its revamped teacher and principal evaluation systems next year with schools that volunteer.
Classroom teachers’ evaluations will include how much their students have improved over the school year. Other components will include peer evaluations.
“Students, parents and the public will know how schools are performing in a clear and easily understood system of letter grades,” Zais said in a statement. “Teachers and principals will be fairly evaluated using student outcomes as a component, so they can become the most effective educators possible.”
The pay-for-performance idea, which Zais advocated in his 2010 campaign, has made teachers anxious. Currently, teachers are paid based on their years on the job and number of degrees. Zais has said the system will reward good teachers and principals, but he also makes clear that some teachers would lose their jobs.
Zais has called the 2001 federal law confusing to parents and demoralizing to hard-working administrators and teachers.
The 2001 law unfairly labels a school as failing to make progress if it misses a single target, he said.
Under the law, schools that miss their targets face increasing consequences, and goals become increasingly harder to reach as benchmarks climb toward the ultimate: 100 percent proficiency. In South Carolina, schools had to meet up to 37 goals, though the exact number depended on a school’s diversity. Missing a single goal meant the school didn’t make adequate yearly progress.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last August that President Barack Obama authorized him to grant the waivers because Congress has failed to act on a long-overdue rewrite of the widely criticized law.
Duncan laid out the waiver process a month later, saying states wanting relief must do certain things. Those included developing better teacher and principal evaluation systems that are used to make personnel decisions.
Zais, a Republican who took office in January 2011, said revamping No Child Left Behind should be a top priority for the next presidential administration.
“No Child Left Behind is broken and should have been replaced years ago,” he said.