— From staff and wire reports
Limestone County Schools Superintendent Thomas Sisk says he believes the state superintendent of education made the right move in seeking a waiver from a goal requiring all students to perform at the proficient level in math and reading by 2014.
Alabama education officials announced last week they will ask the U.S. Department of Education to give Alabama a waiver from the goal of the No Child Left Behind law. The state would instead implement its own plan.
Thirty-three states have already sought and obtained the waiver.
Deputy State Superintendent Sherrill Parris says the state plans to submit the request by early September and expects to get an answer by December. She’s optimistic Alabama will get a waiver.
She said Alabama’s request would be based on implementing Alabama’s new student achievement goals, called Plan 2020. The homegrown plan calls for all high school graduates to be prepared to get a job or pass first-year courses in a university, community college or technical school without remediation.
Sisk, who took over as Limestone superintendent this year after former superintendent Barry Carroll retired, favors the approach.
“State Superintendent Dr. Thomas Bice “is looking at a way that Alabama can evaluate how we serve students in a fair and equitable way that takes into account a number of variables, including standardized test scores,” Sisk said.
Critics of the No Child Left Behind law have long criticized its failure to measure a student’s growth.
“It does not take into account where a child starts out,” Sisk said. “If you run a foot race and not every child starts on the same line and they still have to run 100 yards they will not all finish the same. We need an instrument that looks at the progress of a child over a course of years.”
Other elements also need to be addressed. He said Bice is looking at both of the issues, showing the growth capacity and the opportunity to address the dropout and graduation rates.
“That application for a waiver is the right thing to do to give the state time to look at how we assess,” Sisk said. “I support what he is doing; it is a step in the right direction.”
Meanwhile, the new superintendent is ready to improve Limestone schools.
“I don’t subscribe to the cookie-cutter approach,” Sisk said. “We do well with the top 10 percent (of students) and the bottom 10 percent, but for the 80 percent in the middle, there is room for growth. So, we are looking at new initiatives such as bringing a diesel engineering course into the school because Limestone County has a rich heritage of agriculture, and establishing an official, countywide JROTC program.”
Expanding automobile trade programs and offering more dual-enrolment classes to put graduates well on their way to earning their associate degree are other possibilities, he said.
Sisk wants Limestone County students to be able to take part and compete in the global market, whether they choose a trade or choose to go on to college.
He also said being one of the top schools in a state ranked low in education from a national standpoint is not an acceptable goal in his opinion.