Louisiana is one of eight states that won a federal waiver from some “onerous” school rules in exchange for major changes in how public schools and students are evaluated, officials said Tuesday.
“This really is a great day for education across Louisiana,” state Superintendent of Education John White told reporters.
White said, under the plan, $375 million in federal school aid — 64 percent of the total — will be freed from restrictions “so that local educators can spend dollars as befits children, not as befits bureaucrats.”
In exchange, the state will launch changes of its own, including a new focus on how to help about 225,000 students who are performing below grade level, which is about one third of the state’s public school enrollment.
In addition, the state will change the way public schools are rated, which is linked to often controversial letter grades given by the state.
The waiver applies to the 2001 federal No Child Left Behind act, which was supposed to improve student achievement.
Critics contend the law often stifles student gains.
However, Congress has been unable to agree on changes.
State officials sought the waiver in February.
“States must show they are protecting children in order to get flexibility,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a prepared statement.
“These states met that bar,” Duncan said.
Eleven other states received waivers earlier, and 18 other applications are pending.
The suddenly less-restricted $375 million is mostly Title I money, which is federal aid for low-income children in public schools.
Other funds are aimed at helping students in rural schools and assistance with before and after school care.
The waiver also means the elimination of school and district improvement plans.
White called the annual reports “onerous and cumbersome.”
He said they often “take hundreds of hours away from the classroom in the name of doing plans that bureaucrats can read and evaluate.”
In addition, local school districts will no longer be required to file reports when teachers have failed to achieve “highly qualified” status, and what they are doing to reach that level.
White said one way that Louisiana’s plan is distinct from others is a new push to aid students performing below grade level in math and English, which is a recurring concern among top state educators.
Those students will become a new “super subgroup,” and schools where they made better than expected gains would benefit in their annual school performance scores, which determine their letter grade.
In another change, school performance scores for students from kindergarten through eighth grade will stem strictly from test scores.
Under current rules, those results are based on test scores, attendance and dropout rates.
High school scores will be based on ACT results, which measures college readiness, and graduation rates.
Under current rules, 70 percent of high school calculations are based on end-of-course exams and 30 percent on graduation rates.
The change will also replace the 200-point scale for school performance scores with a 150-point scale.
It will remove the plus and minus signs added to school grades in favor of a “top gains” designation for schools that meet annual state growth targets and “declining” for those that slip.
The other states awarded federal waivers are Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island.