The Iowa Department of Education's request to be excluded from No Child Left Behind was turned down by the U.S. Department of Education.
"Although the reviewers there really liked Iowa's proposal for a new accountability system, approval was not possible because the state Legislature did not provide us with the authority to meet the waiver requirements relating to evaluation," Staci Hupp, director of communications, said.
According to Hupp, the Legislature didn't give the Department of Education the authority to develop an educator evaluation system that fits with federal waiver requirements.
Because Iowa did not receive a waiver, the Fort Dodge Community School District and other Iowa public schools and districts will remain under the guidelines of No Child Left Behind for another year.
"Nothing is going to change too drastically for us," Sue Wood, FDCSD director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, said. "We were planning to be under No Child Left Behind anyway."
While the waiver was denied, a freeze was placed on the annual increase set by No Child Left Behind on student proficiency.
"This year we were supposed to have a significant jump in the percent of students that would need to be proficient on the Iowa Assessment. We were allowed to freeze it," Wood said. "Next year, we were supposed to have 95 percent of our students proficient. This year, we were supposed to have 88 percent proficient. They're going to keep it at this year's goal."
Achieving 95 percent proficiency would have been "very difficult for everyone in the state," Wood said.
"The ultimate goal of No Child Left Behind was that, by 2014, 100 percent of our students would be proficient across the state, across the nation," she said. "Everybody looked at that and said, that's really a magnificent goal, but it would be very hard to attain."
The state sets the percentage of students that are supposed to be proficient, as measured by the Iowa Assessments. For third to fifth grades, in reading, 88 percent of the students need to be proficient. In sixth to eighth grades, 86.7 percent; and 11th grade, 89.7 percent.
"Your school has to meet that percentage of students proficient for two years in a row or you are considered a 'school or district in need of assistance'," Wood said.
Proficient meant scoring at least in the 41st percentile on the test, but that has changed with the transition from the Iowa Test of Basic Skills to Iowa Assessments this year, Wood said.
"Any comparisons we're trying to make from last year to this year are really very tenuous, because it's not the same test," she said. "Both were from Iowa testing programs and they say there's a good correlation between the two, but in reality we just started over this year."
The fact of continuing under No Child Left Behind will not explicitly change the district's curriculum, Wood said.
"We'll just keep doing what we're doing. The law will just be the same as it has been in the past," she said. "Of course, we're going to make changes to improve our curriculum, all those kinds of things, but as far as our thinking about No Child Left Behind, it will be the same as it has been."
Testing isn't the only measure of student success.
"We use Iowa Assessments, and we believe Iowa Assessments are important," Wood said. "But we like to take a look at the amount of growth our students are making. If you take a look at the way our students are growing from year to year to year, that's really important."
An opportunity remains for the Iowa Department of Education to pursue a waiver in the future, Hupp said.
"Right now we're in a holding pattern, because we don't have the authority to move forward with the evaluation system that meets the waiver requirements," she said. "However, the U.S. Department of Education left the door open for approval in case the Legislature takes action in the future."