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State to seek ‘No Child’ waiver

MALDEN — Massachusetts will join a growing number of states in seeking a waiver from a federal requirement that all students must be proficient by 2014, a top state education official announced this morning.

Mitchell Chester, commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said he would move aggressively in meeting a November deadline to file a waiver with the US Department of Education and that he would seek input from a range of leaders in developing the waiver application.

“I think we are well positioned and well advised to move quickly on this,’’ Chester told the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education at its monthly meeting.

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Chester said the 100-percent proficiency rule – a key provision of the federal No Child Left Behind Act – has lost credibility as an increasing number of schools and districts fail to make yearly progress in fulfilling the requirement. Last week, state education officials announced that more than 80 percent of the state’s schools and more than 90 percent of districts missed proficiency targets on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams that the state established under the federal law.

Chester said an accountability system that potentially paints so many schools and districts – including many with long records of high performance — as problematic “flies in the face of common sense.’’

On Friday, President Obama said he would give states a pass on much of the 2002 law, including the requirement that virtually every student be “proficient’’ in math and reading by 2014. He said the law contains “serious flaws that are hurting our children instead of helping them.’’

The possibility of Massachusetts filing a waiver has generated some debate since Chester first floated the idea last month. While educators largely support the move, some education advocates, particularly those tied with the business community, oppose a waiver, believing it is a step backward from the state’s long tradition of rigorous academic standards and holding schools accountable for student achievement.

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This morning, Chester defended the move, as he addressed some of the criticism, noting the state will still require high school students to pass MCAS in order to graduate.

“This is not about moving away from accountability for results,’’ Chester said. “I’m not interested in a waiver for letting adults off the hook for student performance.’’

Chester said Massachusetts should have a good chance of securing a waiver because it already has fulfilled some of the key criteria to qualify, such as creating a program to overhaul the worst performing schools, revamping the state’s teacher evaluation system, and joining other states in adopting a uniform set of standards in English and math.

Thomas Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, said after the announcement that filing a waiver was a “no-brainer,’’ saying the proficiency requirement has lost credibility.

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