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Helmut Schmidt, Published September 10 2012

Area school officials cautiously optimistic about federal waiver

FARGO – The announcement that North Dakota has applied for a waiver from requirements in the federal No Child Left Behind law was met with cautious optimism Monday by Fargo and West Fargo school officials.

“I think the provisions of the waiver application and the positive impacts that they will have on the students will be a good thing for Fargo Public Schools students,” said Bob Grosz, an assistant superintendent for Fargo schools.

“This is good. Now we’ll move forward” and study the plan to be ready if it’s approved, said Beth Slette, director of assessment and federal programs for West Fargo School District.

Wayne Sanstead, state superintendent of public instruction, said Monday that he had approved sending the waiver request to the Department of Education.

North Dakota is one of seven states, plus Puerto Rico and the Bureau of Indian Education, in the latest wave of states seeking flexibility from NCLB rules in how they improve student achievement.

Other states in the latest group are Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire and West Virginia.

Thirty-three states plus the District of Columbia have gotten waivers from NCLB, Minnesota and South Dakota among them.

North Dakota is seeking to change to a system that focuses on improving student achievement, rather than on setting achievement levels, the state Department of Instruction reported.

DPI said the state under its waiver plan would:

E Continue to implement its college- and career-ready content standards in English, language arts and mathematics, and use tests designed for those standards by the 2014-15 academic year.

“That’s one of the things we are on-board with,” Grosz said.

“West Fargo is really pleased with the emphasis on college and career readiness,” because it’s part of the district’s strategic plan, Slette said.

• Set achievable academic expectations and identify and support Title I priority, focus, and reward schools.

Title I schools have high percentages of students receiving free- and reduced-price lunches, which is one indicator of poverty.

North Dakota would identify only the lowest-achieving 5 percent of Title I schools and another 10 percent that show gaps in the achievement levels of various subgroups. Those schools would be required to do improvement planning and activities.

• Develop state teacher and principal evaluation guidelines.

The North Dakota plan also allows schools and districts that face mandatory funding requirements under NCLB to have more flexibility in how they use funds.

North Dakota’s request was submitted after an 11-month study. If the application is approved, the plan would go into effect in the 2013-14 academic year, DPI said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583