Maine receives ESEA waiver

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act waiver will allow Maine to move forward on local and State reforms that will cut in half the percentage of non-proficient students at each Title I school by 2018

AUGUSTA – Maine will have flexibility in meeting federal education requirements and be allowed to implement its own statewide system to hold schools accountable and help them improve student outcomes.

Governor Paul R. LePage and State Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen announced today that the U.S. Department of Education has granted Maine a two-year waiver from school improvement provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

Maine joins 39 other states that have successfully applied for flexibility since 2011 because the accountability requirements of NCLB – including 100 percent student proficiency in math and reading by 2014 – were universally unobtainable and not sensitive to the individual challenges of schools and states, especially rural ones.

Currently, about 67 percent of Maine’s elementary school students and 48 percent of high school students have achieved proficiency in math and reading. As a result, without the waiver, many schools in the state could have been subject to federal sanctions.

Instead, Maine will be allowed to focus finite federal resources on the schools most in need with a goal of cutting in half the percentage of non-proficient students and raising the graduation rate to 90 percent at each Title I school in the state over the next six years.

Title I is the federal designation for schools with high percentages of disadvantaged learners, including those that are low-income, some minority groups and students with limited English proficiency.

“It’s all about our kids,” said Governor LePage. “Maine students deserve high standards, quality teachers and schools that are held accountable for their results. This flexibility from the federal government’s one-size-fits-all approach allows our state to stay focused on working toward that through the comprehensive reforms we already have underway – rewarding good schools and helping the ones who aren’t doing well.”

Maine earned the waiver because its Department of Education has developed an ambitious yet achievable plan that will improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps and increase the quality of instruction.

The State will do that through the continued implementation of the Maine Learning Results, a set of high standards that ensure students graduate college and career ready.

Maine DOE will also help local school districts develop and deploy educator evaluation and support systems to be piloted in 2014-15 and fully implemented in 2015-16.

At the heart of the State’s plan and the subject of 11 months of negotiations with U.S. DOE is a system of differentiated recognition, accountability and support for Maine’s 380 Title I served schools.

Commissioner Bowen said schools will be placed in one of five categories: priority, focus, monitor, progressing and meeting. Unlike the original NCLB measures, Maine’s approved plan will distinguish schools not just by student proficiency but also progress.

These tiers will allow the State to most intensively target its support to the schools that past performance shows need it the most, though improvement resources will be available to all public schools.  For example, Maine’s lowest performing schools in the “priority” category will have a school improvement specialist assigned to support them in developing and implementing a detailed improvement plan and have access to targeted Title I funds.

“Maine schools will be strengthened by our ability to better target meaningful interventions, and our students will be the beneficiaries,” said Commissioner Bowen. “This waiver marks an important turning point away from the stagnant achievement we’ve seen since No Child Left Behind was imposed in 2001 and toward a future where transformed student-centered schools are meeting the needs of the young people they serve, who are graduating truly prepared for success in college, career and civic life.”

Now that the waiver has been approved, Maine DOE will use existing data to create the list of schools by category. The list should be published in September and is expected to show about 20 priority schools and 40 focus schools.

Maine will also recognize high progressing and high performing schools starting next year.

The federal waiver approval also requires that Maine DOE continue to publish report cards for all schools, a requirement met by its new Maine School Performance Grading System.

Like the school grades, the differentiated categories in Maine’s approved accountability system expand transparency for parents and the public because they provide a more comprehensive picture of how a school is doing, as opposed to NCLB’s oversimplified sorting of schools by whether they do or do not make adequate yearly progress.

For more information about Maine’s waiver, visit www.maine.gov/doe/accountability.

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