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State's Application Details Reform Efforts

By Associated Press

Louisville, KY – Kentucky's application for relief from parts of the federal No Child Left Behind law provides a lengthy, detailed roadmap of the last two years' worth of efforts to overhaul public education in the state.

The application, which is posted on the state Department of Education's website, is a 400-plus-page tome filled with acronyms, graphics and charts. It seeks the maximum flexibility allowed in asking to be freed from 11 specific NCLB regulations. Generally, those regulations focus on how federal education dollars can be spent and what tests will be used to measure progress.

It includes some details regarding future student testing, including setting lofty goals for children beginning as early as the third grade.

"The new testing system is linked from Grade 3 to Grade 12 and locked into college readiness standards," reads the application. "Students taking the tests from Grade 3 to 12 will know if they are on the path toward college and career readiness as defined by all of the public universities of Kentucky."

The ACT test will be used as the benchmark test for Kentucky students, the application says. In addition to the traditional college-readiness test most high school juniors are familiar with, ACT tests aimed at children as young as middle school will also be implemented, the application says.

In several instances, the application refers to the ACT as the "capstone high school assessment to determine college and career readiness."

Also detailed is the state's new approach to pulling up test scores in student populations that traditionally score below the achievement goal, also known as the "achievement gap."

Kentucky plans to place traditionally low-performing student groups into one "Student Gap Group" in an attempt give schools one goal to reach. Under the NCLB system, gap groups are sectioned out and schools are given benchmarks for each subgroup, such as students with disabilities, black students and students who receive free or subsidized meals.

"The Kentucky model solves the problem by putting all gap groups into a single group," the application says. " ... The model actually increases the motivation for schools to improve the achievement of all students."

The application was filed Nov. 14 with the U.S. Department of Education along with those of 10 other states: Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

They were to be peer-reviewed beginning "immediately after Thanksgiving," with states to be notified of the determinations by mid-January or earlier, the department said.

President Barack Obama in September formally introduced the waiver plan to allow states to ignore some key provisions of the Bush-era NCLB law if certain conditions were met. With the announcement, Obama took the unusual step of bypassing Congress, saying the inaction by lawmakers to overhaul NCLB spurred him to action.

Kentucky education officials have been overhauling the state's public education system from top to bottom since the 2009 passage of Senate Bill 1, which mandated that every Kentucky public school student graduate prepared for higher education or a career.

Kentucky was the first state to formally ask the federal government to be excused from some NCLB requirements when Gov. Steve Beshear sent a letter to Washington last summer.

Terry Holliday, Kentucky's education commissioner, had said the state would reapply using Obama's new guidelines.

The application includes 16 letters of support from education groups. One from the executive director of the Kentucky School Boards Association pointed out Kentucky's time crunch when it came to aligning the reforms mandated by the General Assembly in 2009 with the NCLB requirements:

"While KSBA hopes that the U.S. Congress will act quickly to overhaul NCLB, we realize that action may be too late for Kentucky," wrote Bill Scott in his letter of support dated July 5. "Our teachers and students will begin using the first instructional elements of the new state accountability system in a matter of weeks."