Noble: Waiver reflects growing discontent with state testing


When the McPherson School District 418 last week became the first district in the country to receive a federal waiver from No Child Left Behind, Hillsboro superintendent Steve Noble said it may be one more signal that the days of standardized education may be waning.

?I think the lid has been taken off Pandora?s box,? Noble said.

The waiver will allow the McPherson district to implement a locally designed plan called ?C3: Citizenship, College and Career Readiness? to ensure students learn the skills needed for college and the workplace.

The waiver also will allow USD 418 to give students in grades six through 12 a series of ACT tests, which are better suited to measure students? academic performance than are federally mandated state assess?ment tests.

It?s a direction Noble strongly favors.

?State testing was really about state testing and not really about the kids at all,? Noble said. ?Yes, there?s some learning there that kids go through. But it does very little to prepare kids for the world beyond high school.

?I?ve been saying that for several years now?not only in this district, but in Haven when I was there.?

Alternatives endorsed

Noble is not alone. Approval of the waiver last week was strongly commended by Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, a long-time critic of a ?one-size-fits-all? approach to education.

?This waiver is great news for McPherson and Kansas, and sets a precedent that will resonate in school districts across the country,? Moran said.

?This school district and many others have no problem being held accountable; they simply ask the federal government to afford them sufficient flexibility to tailor education plans to the unique needs of their students.

?Rather than being forced to teach to a standardized test, McPherson can now raise the bar and focus on preparing students for careers and higher education.?

A larger discussion

Noble said the McPherson waiver is part of a larger debate about the value of standardized education versus a pre-NCLB approach that emphasized individual freedom and exploration.

?The feds have a difficult time saying ?no? to these types of (waiver) requests when they themselves are championing the cause for new reform in education, and new and creative initiatives to help kids enter a 21st-century global society,? Noble said.

?(McPherson is) not afraid of accountability, they?re not trying to get out of anything,? he said. ?They are simply saying state testing in its current form in Kansas does very little for kids.?

Alternatives to NCLB are brewing at the state level, too.

?The state board of education has filed a formal letter of appeal to the U.S. Department of Education requesting a waiver for Kansas,? Noble said.

?I think I?m willing to let the waiver go through and see what the result of that is. What they are asking for is a moratorium on any further increase in standards.?

NCLB requires a school to make annual progress on state assessment scores with the goal that every student will be proficient in math and science by 2014.

As an alternative to NCLB, Noble said Kansas would participate with 47 other states in pursing ?common core standards,? where all states will be assessed on the same standards.

Missing the point

But even embracing common core standards misses the point when it comes to what?s best for students, Noble said.

?The more standardized American education becomes, the more we can control the system and punish the bad schools,? he said. ?So in terms of measuring a system, standardization is a good system.

?But standardized education is a bad way to do education for kids. And I mean that sincerely.?

Noble said the former approach to education?freedom and individualiza?tion?made the U.S. a leader in innovation, creativity and invention.

?Ultimately, what I hope Kansas education becomes about is less standardization and more individualism for our kids,? he said.

A good part of that individualism happens beyond the traditional classroom.

?We?ve got to protect the arts, we?ve got to protect athletics, we?ve got to protect the clubs, we?ve got to protect the organizations that enable our kids to do things differently than other standardized systems do for kids,? Noble said.

?That?s what separates public education.?

Budget factors

Noble said protecting elective programs will be difficult since reductions in state aid are forcing USD 410 to cut around $550,000 from the next year?s operational budget.

?Doing that and protecting our activities is going to be an incredible task,? he said. ?Tough decision, tough choices are going to have to be made in the budget committee that we?ve formed.?

Meanwhile, some in the Kansas Legislature are pushing to amend the wording of the state constitution to define their funding responsibility as supporting only the core subjects.

?The Legislature is trying to redefine (the constitution) to say, ?OK, we don?t necessarily think school activities are a core purpose?if you want it, we?re going to make you guys pay for it,? Noble said.

?But those are the things that have made our education system great. So we have to be very careful with what our Legislature is wanting to do with public education.?

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