Educators: Bill would give more control to states

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CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire officials said Wednesday a major education bill makeover expected to be signed by President Barack Obama will help the state develop a school accountability system that meets its needs.

The Senate on Wednesday voted to approve rewriting the No Child Left Behind education law of 2002, now criticized as unworkable and unrealistic. In addition to giving more control of schools to states, it provides federal funding opportunities for early childhood education and science, technology, engineering and math after-school programs.

The bill would keep federally mandated statewide reading and math exams in grades three to eight and one test in high school. But it would encourage states to set caps on the time students spend on testing and diminish the high stakes associated with these exams for underperforming schools.

"While states will be required to adopt challenging academic standards, they're not required to use any particular set of standards like Common Core, for example," U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said in a conference call with New Hampshire educators and reporters. "And teacher evaluation is no longer going to be tied to student test scores."

States will have discretion to determine which of their schools are struggling, as well as the kind of intervention that's appropriate, Shaheen said.

Scott McGilvray, president of the National Education Association in the state, said the bill validates New Hampshire's "longstanding tradition of local control."

"We don't need to just look at a bubble test anymore, but that we can look at other indicators of success in schools, in school support," he said.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education approved a New Hampshire pilot program aimed at reducing standardized testing while providing meaningful feedback for students, parents and teachers. Under the two-year program, students in four districts are taking the statewide tests in three grades instead of seven — once in elementary school, once in middle school and once in high school.

In offsetting years, the districts will administer locally developed performance assessments, which ask students to apply what they have learned. For example, fourth-grade math students might design a new park and write a letter to local officials explaining their cost calculations.

The Sanborn Regional School District is taking part in the program. Brian Blake, superintendent of the district, said the bill would give additional opportunities to expand on it. "We're raising the bar for everybody with this legislation," he said.

State Education Commissioner Virginia Barry said the bill is an opportunity to develop an accountability system that meets the needs of the state and schools in helping students make progress and be ready for college and a career. She said it will be a collaborative process.

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