What's the hurry?

Oregon has submitted its application for a waiver of public education requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. That's a good thing. The federal act has been shown to be overly reliant on one-size-fits-all test scores, and has been unreasonably punitive toward schools that failed to meet strict standards even while making progress toward improving student performance.

But state education officials seem to be in a tremendous hurry to file their waiver request, ignoring questions raised along the way by local educators who must actually implement the alternative measurements the state is proposing to use in place of NCLB requirements.

The Obama administration announced in September that states would be allowed to request waivers. Oregon is among 28 states expected to file requests in the second round. In the first round last November, 11 states requested waivers.

If federal officials approve Oregon's request, school districts will enter into annual achievement compacts with the Oregon Education Investment Board, created by the 2011 Legislature. Exactly how those compacts will be developed and how achievement will be measured is unclear. So is the cost of the new process and whether cash-strapped local districts can afford to comply.

Local educators expressed concern about the state's application, saying they asked many questions that were not answered before the request was submitted.

The deadline for the second round of applications is Feb. 21; the state filed its application nearly a month early. Why the rush? The state won't get an answer to its request until late March — after the short 2012 legislative session is expected to end. Lawmakers can enact any needed legislation contingent on the waiver's being granted no matter when the application is filed.

For that matter, federal officials apparently will accept a third round of applications after the end of the school year. So it's not at all clear why Oregon's application had to be so rushed that local educators are left wondering what the future holds.

Early indications are not encouraging. For instance, the state's proposed measurement system would label individual schools as "model," "focus" or "priority," from most to least successful.

Those apparently are nice euphemisms for "exceeds expectations," "meets expectations" and "needs improvement" — but less clear. If that's an example of how the state will approach measuring student achievement, we fear the new system will be another exercise in educationese run amok rather than a clear, straightforward structure that parents can understand and teachers and administrators can implement with a minimum of fuss.

Oregon's proposal may well be an improvement over No Child Left Behind. We hope it is. But judging by the state's performance so far, we'd give it an incomplete.

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