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Brighton Schools Change Focus as Michigan Receives No Child Left Behind Waiver

Brighton Area Schools Assistant Superintendent Laura Surrey said the district's new focus will be to raise achievement of its lowest performing students.

Brighton Area Schools will now have more flexibility in determining how to address student achievement now that Michigan is among several states granted a waiver by the U.S. Department of Education today.

Laura Surrey, Brighton Area Schools' assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said she was pleased with the waiver, but it does not mean the district is 'off the hook.'

"We will simply be replacing one focus for another," Surrey said. "Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), we simply needed to demonstrate growth in our subgroup populations - any group that has at least 30 in a grade level. Our subgroups were Economically Disadvantaged and Students with Disabilities. Now the focus will shift to reducing the gap between our highest performing students (top 30 percent) and our lowest performing students (bottom 30 percent). That is now our challenge. We have extremely high performing students and we want them to achieve even higher. Our challenge will be to raise the achievement of our lowest 30 percent."

In a press release Thursday morning, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan called the flexibility approval great news for students and schools. “This approved flexibility to No Child Left Behind will help us continue our efforts to get all kids career- and college-ready, and close the achievement gap between various student populations," he said.

What the change essentially means is that the state no longer has to follow the guidelines set by the government that requires all students to be passing statewide standardized tests by 2014. They can also be more flexible in how they spend NCLB dollars and find ways to measure academic growth that doesn't rely solely on tests.

Critics have argued the 2014 deadline was based on "arbitrary targets" and "one-size-fits-all" strategies for proficiency.  And now states can set the pace and determine exactly what students will need to learn based on their own accountability standards. Michigan has already started to do that with its new, deemed to be tougher than statewide tests in the past.

And key is that local districts will be allowed to develop their own interventions and plans for those who are performing poorly academically.Districts also no longer will face penalties for not meeting goals, such as annual yearly progress.

Brighton has several special programs to support students who achieve below grade level, such as its Response to Intervention (RtI) model. RtI is a K-8 intervention model that identifies struggling students and students at risk of struggling. Students receive timely, targeted small group instruction to quickly remediate them and bring them back to grade level.

Surrey said RtI interventions happen outside of the core instruction so students do not fall behind just because they have to leave the room. Teachers meet on a regular basis too to discuss local reading/math assessments and to make adjustments in core instruction and interventions.

“We went to bat for local school districts because we know they are working hard to improve student achievement, but needed this flexibility from the ‘one-size-fits-all’ structure of No Child Left Behind,” Flanagan said in the release. “We’ve gotten them the flexibility and assistance, but in return, are raising expectations and transparency. The end result will be higher achievement levels for all students and a greater future for Michigan.”

Patch Regional Editor Teresa Mask contributed to this story.

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