Local school districts will have more leeway on how to spend federal money now that Washington has been granted a waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements, Longview school officials said.

"This removes some of the strings as to how you can spend Title I dollars," said Dana Jones, executive director of teaching and learning for the Longview School District. "Now we can really focus on using the dollars we are allotted to try and make a difference for those kids."

The Obama administration on July 6 granted Washington's request for a waiver, leaving school accountability in the hands of the state. On Thursday, Oregon was also granted a waiver.

Jones and Longview District spokeswoman Sandy Catt said Thursday under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, the district was required to pay busing costs for elementary students who transferred out of a school that was not meeting adequate yearly progress (AYP) and into one that was. In the 2011-12 school year, extra transportation costs were $50,881, Catt said.

Jones sent a letter to the parents of the 98 students who requested transfer under AYP School Choice, giving them the option of arranging student transport to the new school or staying in their child's neighborhood school.

"So far, we've had good response to the letter," Catt said. "We're not having anyone upset so far."

Another cost savings: schools are not required to pay for outside tutoring services.

"The cost was considerable" and student improvement was difficult to assess because the tutors measured progress in a different way than NCLB mandates that schools measure it, Jones said. Much of the cost came from a huge burden of paperwork, she said.

All the changes should help students, she said, adding "We want every child meeting standards."

She is excited about the state's new way of measuring student progress. Under NCLB, states reported data from reading and math assessments in particular grades. For example, third-graders in one year are compared with third-graders in other years.

Under the new system, students will be tracked as they progress through grades. Scores from third-graders in one year will be compared with scores from the same students as second-graders, putting the focus on their improvement as a group.

Another change: The state Office of Public Instruction has reclassified schools as "priority" (lowest 5 percent of Title I schools), "focus" (lowest 10 percent of Title I schools) and "reward" (highest-performing" or "high-progress.")

Monticello Middle School is Longview's only school on the priority list, Jones said.

"Priority schools have expectations to turn around performance, close opportunity gaps and substantially improve student outcomes," she said. Monticello is in the third year of a $250,000 grant to meet those goals.

Longview has one school on the focus list — Kessler Elementary School — and Kelso has two — Coweeman and Huntington middle schools. All three of those schools made the list because the special education students show low achievement, according to the OSPI chart.

Jones said districts will receive about $20,000 per focus school to close the gap between the main student population and the special ed subgroup.

Based on a needs assessment, "we might devote some of those dollars to additional teachers," she said. In the past, districts weren't allowed to spend Title I funds on special education.

Jones said one of the three main reasons Washington received the waiver was the new Teacher-Principal Evaluation system that is being developed. Kelso's Superintendent Rob MacGregor is involved in piloting the new process. Earlier this year he said it will ensure teachers are giving quality instruction while offering them opportunities to grow in their craft.

MacGregor was out of town last week. A future Daily News report will explore how the NCLB waiver will affect Kelso students.

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