Free Lance-Star reporter Amy Umble covers Stafford County schools and other education issues

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Virginia schools receive some flexibility from federal requirements

Note: I corrected this to read “adequate yearly progress.” You’re right, John, it was short for adequate, not annual. Another good example of why I shouldn’t write a blog post while trying to file a story at the same time.

Virginia schools will no longer face stiff penalties if all students aren’t proficient in reading and math by 2014.

The state today received a waiver from some of the provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act. This makes Virginia one of 24 states to receive such a waiver.

The federal government started offering waivers earlier this year as a way to  offer flexibility. States had to develop alternative plans for accountability in order to receive a waiver. Virginia’s first plan met with criticism, and the state has been negotiating with the federal government to craft an accountability plan that works. Today, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that Virginia was successful in getting the waiver.

What will this mean for your school?

For starters, you’ll no longer hear about Adequate Yearly Progress. That goal–known as AYP–reported how schools fared among subgroups of students, including minority students, poor students, those with disabilities and those who are learning English.

Schools will still have to track the progress of those students. They will have to meet new, federal standards for progress among those groups.

In the upcoming school year, school divisions will also implement new teacher evaluation systems. Under federal requirements for the waiver, 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation must focus on student achievement. Teachers will have to create SMART goals for students, which are goals that are specific and attainable within a year. Their evaluation will be based on how the students achieve these goals. There will also be observations and student surveys.

Perhaps the biggest difference will be that schools will no longer be under the gun to have every student proficient in reading and math by 2014. These federal rules, under the 2001 NCLB Act, required proficiency of every student, including those with disabilities and those who are still learning English. Schools who didn’t meet this requirement would have to provide tutoring and school choice vouchers. Now, the state will set benchmarks aimed at reducing failure rates.

In a statement, Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia Wright said:

“Virginia schools and school divisions can now focus their energy and resources on implementing the state Board of Education’s rigorous new content standards and assessments without contending with outdated and often counter-productive federal requirements and rules. The commonwealth will continue to hold schools accountable for closing achievement gaps but schools won’t be subject to a system of increasingly unrealistic annual objectives.”