A day after the U.S. Department of Education gave eight of California's largest school districts a waiver from provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson praised the decision, saying it will improve accountability and student performance, and "allows us to do work very differently."
The districts, which include Sanger Unified and Fresno Unified, are all members of a coalition called the California Office to Reform Education or CORE.
Hanson says the new approach will replace No Child Left Behind's emphasis on standardized testing as the main measure of school performance with a new formula.
According to Hanson, the new approach will combine academic testing with data on graduation rates, student behavior, and feedback from parents, "bringing all of that data together to give us a composite number that we think much more thoroughly and holistically reflects what actually is going on, not just in classrooms, but on that entire campus," says Hanson.
Hanson also says the waiver will allow the district to better track and get credit for progress made by students in smaller demographic groups that previously weren't counted under the law. The new agreement drops the threshold to officially categorize an ethnic group from 100 students at a school to just 20.
"Those students did not show up, [in data] regardless of how they performed. And by definition then staff, because they weren't held to it, would not necessarily take time and energy to try to figure out what they would be doing next," says Hanson. "That was more than ironic when we were living under something called No Child Left Behind, when we were in fact we were leaving thousands of kids behind."
Hanson says he's already talked to the Fresno Teachers Association about how teacher evaluations might be tied to student achievement under the new framework.
"It's not going to be dramatically different, but I do think that taxpayers, parents and everyone else have a reasonable expectation that if students go into a classroom that after the course of a year, there should be some growth, by virtue of being in a classroom for a year, and that's fair game to be able to talk about," says Hanson.
Dean Vogel, President of the California Teachers Association criticized the measure. In a statement he said, "at a time when we are working hard in California to implement positive changes that ensure all students get a fair shot at a quality education, this top-down move that excluded teacher input is absurd, counterproductive and divisive."
The CORE group sought the waiver for their individual districts after a similar request by the state of California was rejected last year, over a dispute about tying test scores to teacher evaluations. Nationwide, 39 states and the District of Columbia have also received waivers from the law, but this is the first time individual districts have received such a designation.
Hear our complete in-depth interview with Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson: