Fresno, Clovis and Sanger school districts were among nine in California that applied Thursday for a waiver to replace federal No Child Left Behind accountability rules with local ones.
Superintendents said the waiver would give districts more control over accountability and provide more flexibility, allowing them to focus on preparing students for college or careers.
The No Child Left Behind law is "too narrow, " Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson said. "It doesn't take into account the entire child, the entire school, the entire climate we're trying to affect."
Under the law, all students must be proficient in English language arts and math based on standardized tests by 2014. The proficiency standard has been increasing each year since the law took effect in 2002.
Schools that fail to reach the rising proficiency level are labeled "program improvement," which allows parents to send children to higher-performing schools and places other sanctions on the low-performing schools. The sanctions can include free tutoring, state takeover and turning the school into a charter.
Superintendents say the proficiency standard is too difficult to attain -- even schools with high and improving standardized test scores may wind up in the school improvement category. "We think it's counter-productive to have this system," said Carlo Prandini, associate superintendent for school leadership in Clovis.
In 2011, states were given the chance to apply for a two-year waiver. California applied but was rejected last year by the federal government.
This year, districts can apply individually. The nine California districts that applied Thursday have submitted applications in a bundle to the state for review. The districts belong to the California Office to Reform Education, a consortium of 10 school districts also known as CORE. Besides Fresno, Clovis and Sanger, participating waiver districts are Long Beach, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento City and Santa Ana. Garden Grove joined the consortium too late to be a part of the waiver request, said Fresno Unified spokeswoman Jamilah Fraser.
Sanger Unified Superintendent Marc Johnson said the consortium waiver request "looks nothing like what was submitted" by the California Department of Education. The state's failed application "didn't have a chance of getting through because it didn't meet the criteria" set by the federal government, he said.
The districts are not attempting to escape sanctions, Johnson said, but to "improve the educational landscape not just for children of Sanger or Fresno or Clovis, but for the children of California."
And the waiver request addresses accountability, he said. The nine districts have made a commitment to work together to improve the evaluation process for teachers and principals, which is something that should have been done years ago, Johnson said. "This is going to strengthen what we're doing."
Rick Miller, the consortium executive director, said during a teleconference Thursday that test scores will be a part of accountability -- but other measures, such as peer review of teachers in the classroom, could be included.
Every accountability measure will go toward making sure "all kids are learning at a higher level," Miller said. "In California, if we're not educating all the kids, we're not ready for the work force of tomorrow."
Hanson, who joined Miller and the superintendents from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland at the teleconference, said evaluations would take into account social, emotional and other issues in schools, "which is a much more real description of the challenges we're up against in educating our children."
The districts also will collaborate by sharing data and resources, including working together on implementation of new Common Core State Standards by 2013-14 and assessments that will begin in 2014-15.
"I view this as a system of support to help teachers do the very difficult work of Common Core," Hanson said.
The superintendents hope the waiver application can be submitted to the federal Department of Education by early to mid-May and a new educational accountability system be in place by the next school year.