Belmont Schools will continue to push to improve the education for three notable subsections of its student population, according to Dr. Thomas Kingston, Belmont's superintendent of schools, after Massachusetts was one of 10 states that were granted a waiver by the US Department of Education on certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act last week.
The state now moves away from a controversial aspect of the law that determined that nine in ten Massachusetts school districts were not meeting yearly federal progress standards in 2011.
Under the provision, a school either achieved its ever increasing Adequate Yearly Progress target or it didn't not, with no middle ground. In 2011, at the same time that Massachusetts 4th and 8th graders outscored their students in all other states in reading and mathematics scores for the fourth consecutive time, the federal standard identified 81 percent of Massachusetts schools – including Belmont's Burbank, Butler, and Winn Brook elementary schools – and 90 percent of districts as not making adequate progress.
"[The Adequate Yearly Progress] doesn't show the overall quality of education that is being taught, especially in a system like Belmont," said Kingston.
The goal forward, said Massachusetts Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester in a news conference last week, is to follow established state goals – approved by the federal government – that demonstrates a commitment to high standards and accountability, efforts to provide targeted assistance to under performing schools and focusing on closing achievement gaps: the difference in academic performance between different groups.
It is that final goal that Kingston said will be a priority in Belmont. While the totality of Belmont students achieve outstanding scores in standardized tests and in other measures of education proficiency, there "are particular areas of importance for us."
"We at Belmont Public Schools will pay attention to the achievement gap between the overall population and three groups; special education students, students of color and students in which English is their second language," said Kingston.
"While we are no longer under the mandate of Washington, we will be expected by the state to increase scores by 50 percent in those target areas by 2017," he said.