State files waiver from education law

ATLANTA — Georgia is asking for a massive overhaul of how it measures student achievement under the federal No Child Left Behind law, according to documents released Monday.

The state is requesting that it be allowed to include science, social studies and foreign languages — rather than just math and reading — in its calculation of which schools pass muster, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. Georgia also wants to stop rating schools as simply passing or failing by using a five-star system and colored flags to indicate whether a school is making gains. State officials hope the system will make it easier for parents and community members to tell how a school is truly performing.

Georgia schools Superintendent John Barge said the state wants to expand what test scores and measures are used to determine how students are performing. The current federal law calls for states to use standardized tests, attendance and a handful of other factors, but Barge said the state wants to count Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, SAT and ACT test scores, as well as put more focus on attendance.

Under federal law, elementary and middle school students in Georgia who did poorly in reading and math were taken out of other classes for remediation to help them meet federal goals. That's created a pipeline of students who have had little other than math and reading throughout their schooling, he said.

"What's happened over time is you would get students into high school that would have little to no science content knowledge and they're not prepared for high school," Barge said in a meeting Monday with other state school chiefs in Washington, D.C.

Georgia filed its waiver Monday, landing among the first states to apply for flexibility after Education Secretary Arne Duncan and President Barack Obama announced in September that they would let states get around unpopular parts of the federal law in exchange for better ways to measure student performance.

Obama called for Congress to overhaul the law, which was passed in 2002 under former President George W. Bush, by the start of school. The White House has grown increasingly frustrated as political divides and disagreements over how to change the law have held up its reauthorization.

"We're going to let states, schools and teachers come up with innovative ways to give our children the skills they need to compete for the jobs of the future," Obama said during a Sept. 23 speech. "Because what works in Rhode Island may not be the same thing that works in Tennessee — but every student should have the same opportunity to learn and grow, no matter what state they live in."

The law has been due for a rewrite since 2007.

Applications for waivers submitted by Georgia and other states will be reviewed in December, and the Education Department is expected to announce which waivers will be granted early next year. Nearly 40 states have said they plan to apply for a waiver between now and February.

Georgia hopes to use the new accountability system this spring to calculate how schools are performing.


Associated Press writer Kimberly Hefling in Washington contributed to this report.