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Pennsylvania gets federal OK to ignore No Child Left Behind law

| Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, 3:57 p.m.

The Education Department approved Pennsylvania's request to ignore parts of the federal No Child Left Behind law on Tuesday, giving state administrators little time to plan an announcement to teachers, students and parents before school begins this week and next.

The waiver request, among the last filed nationwide, exempts the state's 501 public school districts from the law's unrealistically high standards, including a mandate requiring 100 percent of students to test proficient or above in math and reading by 2014.

Regionally, educators caught the news late in the day between orientations and training sessions.

Heather Hopson, a Pittsburgh Public Schools spokeswoman, and Superintendent Joseph Clapper of the Quaker Valley School District said their staffs would address the issue on Wednesday. Superintendent Patrick J. Mannarino of North Hills School District plans to announce the decision to teachers the same day.

“The more attainable and realistic goals of the new grading system are sure to be well received in North Hills as they will be throughout the state,” spokeswoman Amanda Hartle said.

Carolyn Dumaresq, executive deputy secretary for the state Department of Education, said in July the data educators collect won't change, but how it's reported will.

Under the new system, teachers will supervise small subgroups delineated by skill level instead of race, economic disadvantage, English language skills or special education status. In the waiver, state leaders pledged to improve student performance by 50 percent in the next six years for all students.

Progress is monitored online through a School Performance Profile with easy-to-understand demographics about the school and its surrounding area. Schools and districts will be evaluated on a 100-point scale, which takes into account college and career readiness, graduation and attendance rates, test scores, growth and teacher effectiveness.

This arrives on the cusp of a new educator evaluation system signed into law last year by Gov. Tom Corbett, which aligns teacher performance less with test scores and more with classroom observations, promotion rates, attendance and student performance buildingwide.

“Pennsylvania was late to the party,” said Wythe Keever, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest teacher union. “It's about time (administrators) figured out what parents, teachers and students already knew — a single standardized test score doesn't determine a student's or a teacher's worth.”

Keever stressed the need for funding to maintain the growth Pennsylvania promised to provide.

“It's a lot harder to hit student achievement marks after more than $1.1 billion in budget cuts,” he said.

Pennsylvania is the 41st state to receive a waiver. The department is considering waiver requests from Illinois, Iowa, Texas, Wyoming, Puerto Rico and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Congressional action to reauthorize or replace No Child Left Behind, up for renewal since 2007, would require states to overhaul any system to meet national standards. The House passed a rewrite in July. The Senate wrote a competing bill, but a vote on that version has not been set.

The Associated Press contributed.

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