Friday, July 06, 2012


By Alyson Klein | Politics K-12/Education Week  |

July 6, 2012 6:00 AM  ::  Two more states—Washington and Wisconsin—have been approved today for waivers that will allow them to get out from under mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The two approvals mark an important milestone in the NCLB waiver process. Washington and Wisconsin's approval brings the total of approved states to 26. That means that, officially, more than half the states in the country are no longer subject to the accountability system at the heart of the much-maligned NCLB law.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who dreamed-up the waiver plan, sent out a fist-bumping press release to celebrate.

"It is a remarkable milestone that in only five months, more than half of the states in the country have adopted state-developed, next-generation education reforms to improve student learning and classroom instruction, while ensuring that resources are targeted to the students that need them most," said Duncan. "A strong, bipartisan reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act remains the best path forward in education reform, but as 26 states have now demonstrated, our kids can't wait any longer for Congress to act."

So what's in these waivers? Washington state's waiver is conditionally approved, just for the 2012-13 school year. Washington has proposed an accountability system that meets all of the Education Department's requirements, but the state is hoping to move to a more sophisticated system that includes measures of student achievement, student progress, and graduation rates, in the 2013-14 school year. The state is still working on the details. Once Washington gets its new system in place, it will need to be approved by the department. (Georgia, which was approved for a waiver earlier this year, is in a similar position.)

Washington's approval also hinges on its teacher- and principal-evaluation system. The state is piloting some new methods of measuring a teachers' impact on student growth, but hasn't yet completely finalized the system. The Evergreen State will have to submit its final guidelines to the department next year in order to keep its waiver after the coming school year, a department official said.

To get the waiver, the Washington also provided a lot more detail on interventions for priority schools (the bottom 5 percent of performers in the state). Washington also has an interesting new twist on school support. It's going to set up "innovation zones" where schools can get freedom certain state requirements. (Washington has no charter law.)

Wisconsin is moving to a new accountability system, in which a school's progress will be measured against that of the top-performing schools in the state. Like other states, it's also using a "super subgroup," combining special education students, English-language learners, and low-income students for accountability purposes. In order to get approved for the waiver, the Badger State had to provide more information on its exit criteria for schools to get out of priority or "focus" status (the next 10 percent lowest performers). It also provided a lot more detail on how it would implement college- and career-ready standards and new teacher and leader evaluations.

For those keeping score at home, there are still 10 states, plus the District of Columbia, that are waiting to have their waivers approved: Arizona, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, Oregon and South Carolina.

But two of those states, Idaho and Kansas, took the added step of getting their Annual Measurable Outcomes (AMOs) frozen for one year while they wait for their waivers to get the thumbs-up. More on what states needed to do to qualify for the freeze here.

One state—Iowa—has been turned down for a waiver, but was also able to freeze its AMOs for a year. Other states that intend to apply for waivers by the next deadline, in early September, also got approval for an AMO freeze: Alabama, Alaska, Maine, and West Virginia.


California Seeks Waiver From 'No Child…'

Education leaders in Sacramento request their own waivers in attempt to alleviate penalties issued under current federal law.

By Aaron Castrejon, Glendora Patch |

July 4, 2012   ::  In a move that education leaders hope will turn the tide of so-called failing schools in the state, the California Department of Education recently applied for a waiver from the often controversial No Child Left Behind.

In a letter sent to Assistant Secretary of Education Deborah Delisle June 15, California seeks waivers from NCLB's harshest provisions 1116(b) and (c) regarding school improvement, corrective action and restructuring of so-called failing schools.

California seeks to return to the "single system of performance goals," utilizing the Academic Performance Index officials say is highly effective, as well as end the labeling of schools as in need of program improvement and give districts greater flexibility in spending to accommodate each student's unique learning levels.

CaA Superintendent of Pulic Instruction Tom Torlakson >

The waiver would be effective for the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 academic years.

States seeking waivers from NCLB were given a waiver package by the Department of Education, but Torlakson stated in the request that California would not be able to carry out mandated activities and programs given the current fiscal dilemma.

"It is impossible for the state or its districts to implement the requirements of the Secretary’s waiver package effectively … we are not willing to make promises that we are unable to carry out," Torlakson said.

The waiver request outlined to federal officials how California's own accountability system is far more effective. In the 13 years since the development, the API system has reportedly led to overall increased student achievement and has helped close the achievement gap, Torlakson said.

Officials also claim that since the creation of California Standards Tests in 2003, proficiency in English-language skills has risen from 35 percent to 53 percent from 2003 to 2011. Proficiency in math rose from just 35 percent to 50 in the same time period.

California looks ahead to also analyze and improve the state's API system by revising  calculation methods for schoolwide and student group targets and how it will identify schools and districts that do not meet educational standards. This will be determined early 2013, officials said.

The state will also determine sanctions on a case-by-case basis for schools and districts that do not meet CDE standards.

Local representative Grace Napolitano, candidate for the 32nd district, is a supporter of the waiver request and was one of many, including administrators, teachers and parents, throughout the state to issue a letter of support along with the waiver request.

The waiver is said to be able to provide temporary relief to the state, Torlakson said. In the long haul, officials desire the reauthorization of the Elementary Secondary Education Act, which the current incarnation of is NCLB, so that new provisions can take effect and properly aid the varying needs of individual states, Torlakson said.

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