OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma's top education official reacted with glee Thursday with the announcement that the state is one of 10 being granted a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law that requires students be proficient in reading and math by 2014 — but that she said required focus on getting students to "just pass the tests."
"I'm pretty excited, I'll tell you that. I'm a happy camper," State School Superintendent Janet Barresi told The Associated Press.
"In order to be successful under the old system you focused on getting the students to just pass the tests," Barresi said. "The schools were forced to do that" in order to show annual progress or face the possibility of penalties ranging from busing students to higher-performing schools, offering tutoring and replacing staff.
Barresi said the waiver will allow teachers to focus on individual children, rather than teaching to a test.
The waiver provides flexibility to the states in instructional programs, provided a viable alternative is offered showing that schools are preparing students for college and careers, setting new targets for improving achievement among all students, developing teacher and principal evaluation systems, reward the best performing schools and focus help on the ones doing the worst.
Oklahoma's current plan includes testing of third- through seventh-grade students in various subjects and requiring students, before being allowed to graduate, to pass end-of-instruction tests in Algebra I and English II, and passing at least two other tests from a list that includes Algebra II, English III, biology, geometry or U.S. history.
The state will also end social promotion of students after third grade if they do not read at grade level, conduct evaluations of all teachers and will issue annual grades of the performance of individual schools on an A-through-F scale.
One mother, who has children in grades 4, 7 and 9 said that she is upset with the waiver.
"I feel that any public school system should make any accommodations necessary for a child's ability to learn," said Kanda Ramos of Oklahoma City.
"Whether that means bringing new staff in. Extra resources, extra computers, extra books, whatever that may be it is an obligation of the state when it's a public school to provide that for a child," Ramos said.
Another parent, Mark Plum, whose 17-year-old daughter is a high school junior, welcomed the waiver, saying it gives local districts more control of their schools and that he does not believe it weakens educational standards.
"I think it would probably actually increase them by allowing teachers, local authorities and everything, to make decisions directly to those that benefit the kids the best," Plum said.
"More than anything, about getting the federal government out of local and state issues."
Gov. Mary Fallin released a statement saying the waiver gives state education officials flexibility in implementing Oklahoma-based changes to its educational system. "Acquiring a No Child Left Behind waiver allows our schools to more accurately measure progress in student achievement without a rigid federal formula," Fallin said.
Barresi said the waiver will not lead to a lessening of the state's educational standards.
"Absolutely not. This is not a rollback of accountability. This is actually developing a new system that is aligned with all the work we're doing in education reform in Oklahoma," she said.
"I support No Child Left Behind, but the system that we were using, we know that we can do it better."
The waiver is an acknowledgement by the U.S. Department of Education ,said Scott Howe, superintendent of the Howe Public Schools, a district with an enrollment of about 500 in southeastern Oklahoma
"Instead of the feds saying 'we know best' there is an acknowledgement that's allowing the state to interpret what's best how to look at overall outcomes as indicators of success and failure," Parks said.
"I think this is an example of the U.S. Department of Education acknowledging that we know best how to not only educate, but interpret our efforts as we educate our students," Parks said.