8 States Snag NCLB Waivers in Latest Round

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States that received the latest round of No Child Left Behind Act waivers have focused on both cutting proficiency gaps and their share of nonproficient students by half over the next several years. They have also agreed to detailed plans for both teacher evaluations and struggling schools as conditions of their newfound flexibility under the decade-old federal law.

The eight states to receive NCLB waivers from the U.S. Department of Education last week were Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island. All but Connecticut and Louisiana are winners of the department's Race to the Top grants.

The latest round leaves 18 states and the District of Columbia, another Race to the Top winner, still waiting to hear about their waiver applications.

The department said it intends to approve several more waiver plans in the next several weeks, but did not provide a more specific timeline in the May 29 announcement. The department granted waivers of certain NCLB provisions to 11 other states earlier this year.

Locals' Turn to Compete

The U. S. Department of Education has released draft rules for the recently announced $400 million Race to the Top competition for school districts. The department anticipates giving out about 15 to 20 four-year grants of up to $25 million each. The comment period for the draft rules is open through June 8.

Districts in states that won earlier, state-level rounds of Race to the Top are eligible for the grants, as well as districts in states that did not win or did not apply for the state-level awards.

School districts or consortia of districts may apply for all or a portion of their schools. Districts are allowed to join a group of districts within the state, or across state lines, to apply for the grant. However, a district can be a part of only one application.

An applicant must serve at least 2,500 students, and at least 40 percent of the students served across all participating schools must be eligible for free- or reduced-price lunch.

To win a grant, districts must agree to implement by 2014-15 a system that evaluates teachers, principals, superintendents, and school boards. Those evaluation systems must be based in part on student performance.

Districts must have data systems in place by 2014-15 that can track student progress from preschool through K-12 and postsecondary education, as well as a mechanism to link student performance to their teachers.

"We're still working with everybody. These were applications that were further ahead," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a conference call with reporters.

However, Vermont also announced that it was withdrawing from the waiver process and won't be seeking one from the department. The state wanted to give students state tests every other year, but federal officials indicated that plan would not get approval.

Highlights from each state's successful waiver request in this latest round and the changes each made to its original waiver plan include:

Connecticut: The state set new performance targets in reading, writing, math, and science aimed at cutting achievement gaps in half in the next six years. It also created a "commissioner's network" to provide support for low-performing schools. Connecticut lowered the minimum size of a student demographic group that must be tracked for accountability purposes to 20 students, from 40 in its original application.

Delaware: The concept of adequate yearly progress, the key yardstick of schools' performance under the law, will remain in Delaware, and new targets are designed to reduce by half the number of nonproficient students in the next six years. Responding to a comment from the federal department's peer reviewers for the waiver program, Delaware—like Connecticut—moved to increase the number of student subgroups used for accountability purposes by reducing the minimum "n-size" of a subgroup, from 40 to 30.

Louisiana: The state will feature an A-F system for grading schools and has set improvement targets based on the share of nonproficient students. It also will establish a "network team" to analyze data and set goals in low-performing schools. In a revision prompted by federal concerns, it streamlined its graduation index by including only four-year cohort graduation rates, five-year cohort graduation rates, and the number of General Educational Development credentials.

Maryland: A new performance index will track student achievement in English, math, and science, as well as growth data in English and math. Like Delaware's approved request, the plan aims to cut the share of nonproficient students in half in the next six years. Like Louisiana, Maryland received credit from the Education Department in its revised application for incorporating results from its teacher-evaluation-system pilot into how the system will eventually work.

North Carolina: Teachers in the state will have six standards factor into their annual evaluations, while principals will have eight. Teachers must be effective on student academic growth to be rated effective overall. "Roundtables" of expert educators will monitor district initiatives. In contrast to the state's initial application, there are now escalating consequences for North Carolina schools that repeatedly fail to meet the target participation rate of students on state tests of 95 percent.

New York: The state aims to cut achievement gaps in half in the next half-dozen years. Its Diagnostic Tool for School and District Effectiveness will let districts measure how student achievement and teacher effectiveness compare with the state standard. New York clarified from its original request how teacher evaluations will inform professional development. Also, to exit "focus" school status (for schools contributing to the statewide achievement gap among various student groups), a school must exceed the standards used to identify such schools initially, and must also increase its score on a 200-point performance index by at least 10 points.

Ohio: This is the one state where the federal department wants to make sure that the school accountability system proposed in the waiver is actually approved by lawmakers in its key respects. The department gave a one-year waiver to the state for the 2012-13 school year, but if the new school grading system is not approved by the end of that year, the waiver will expire.

Michael Sawyers, a deputy state superintendent, said of the timeline for implementing a new school grading system: "We believe it's a question of 'when,' not a question of 'if.' "

Ohio plans to cut its achievement gaps in half in six years. Districts will be classified as high support (those needing the most help), medium support, low support, and independent support.

Rhode Island: In addition to "focus" and "priority" schools, Rhode Island will have a "warning" category for schools with "isolated but serious challenges" in such areas as student achievement and graduation rate. It also lowered the minimum n-size of demographic groups to be tracked for school accountability from 45 students to 20. Joining New York and North Carolina, Rhode Island has agreed to institute escalating consequences for a school's failure to meet certain state test-participation rates.

Vol. 31, Issue 33, Pages 21, 23

Published in Print: June 6, 2012, as Latest NCLB Waiver States Face 'To Do' Lists
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