Legislation sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham relieves Tennessee from unrealistic No Child Left Behind Provisions

(NASHVILLE, TN), March 22, 2012 — Legislation that amends current law to reflect Tennessee’s waiver from provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has received final approval in the State Senate.  Senate Bill 3122, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), acknowledges Tennessee’s own ambitious but achievable goals, which include recognizing high performance schools and focusing state resources and the most significant interventions on those who score in the bottom five percent.  The bill is part of Governor Bill Haslam’s legislative priorities and comes after he received approval from the U.S. Department of Education to waive certain provisions of the federal NCLB law.

“This bill matches Tennessee law with Tennessee goals, moving away from the barriers created by the federal NCLB Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards,” said Senator Gresham.   “No Child Left Behind created a culture of compliance. We want to create a culture of achievement.  It removes the over-identification of failing schools under the NCLB provisions to a system where schools are recognized for achieving individual student progress benchmarks set though our successful Race to the Top application.”

The AYP standard applied under No Child Left Behind would have designated hundreds of Tennessee schools as failing to meet the federal law’s definitions and timelines, making them subject to state takeover even though many are making progress.  In place of the annual AYP designation for Local Education Agencies (LEAs) and schools, the bill establishes a state accountability system requiring significant growth in student achievement in core subjects.  It also contains provisions designed to cut the achievement gap between the poorest students and racial minorities with their counterparts, whose scores are higher.

The bill gives greater autonomy and flexibility for schools and LEAs with proven success in turning student scores around, rather than applying a state takeover for all schools eligible for state intervention under NCLB provisions.  By doing so, it narrowly tailors the most significant state sanctions to focus on the bottom five percent of schools.  This allows local school districts to apply their own concentrated measures to improve student scores, as the state focuses on those schools which need help the most, particularly those who are under state intervention in the Achievement School District (ASD).

The Achievement School District was created by Tennessee’s First to the Top law.  Gresham’s legislation clarifies the authority, obligations and operations of the Achievement School District (ASD) to ensure meaningful intervention in the state’s lowest-performing schools as required by federal waiver provisions.  It clarifies funding, property rights and procurement processes to ensure the ASD’s ability to manage schools effectively and create dramatic change and improvement.  In addition, it clarifies the transition of a school from the ASD back to the LEA, removing references to AYP and implanting parental decision-making opportunities.
 
“The legislation is predicated on the general belief that local school districts are best positioned to manage schools against goals, and state intervention should happen in a limited way and only when LEAs are failing to make progress for groups of students or overall,” added Gresham.  “This proposed accountability structure reinforces the goals, priorities and plan outlined in the state’s Race to the Top proposal and provides the flexibility and tailored interventions necessary to ensure that the state can significantly increase student achievement and reduce achievement gaps across the state.”

Under the waiver, Tennessee proposes to raise overall achievement by 3 to 5 percent each year and to cut achievement gaps in half over an 8-year period.  To track progress, the U.S. Department of Education required Tennessee to identify three groups of schools:

·        Reward schools: 10 percent of schools throughout the state with the highest   achievement or overall growth.
·        Focus schools: 10 percent of Tennessee’s schools with the largest achievement  gaps.
·         Priority schools: The bottom 5 percent of the state’s schools in terms of academic   
      performance.

“Tennessee has demonstrated a strong commitment to turning around the state’s lowest performing schools through the creation of the Achievement School District,” Gresham said.  “In compliance with the waiver, Tennessee is also proposing additional processes to drive increased performance in chronically low performing schools and the schools with the largest achievement gaps in the state.  Our focus at the state level will be measurement, public accounting, and targeting financial and planning resources to support improvement.  I am very pleased this legislation has been approved by our State Senate.”

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