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Mass., Tenn. Praised in New Report on NCLB Waiver Plans

By Michele McNeil — December 20, 2011 2 min read
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A new report from the Center for American Progress identifies the two states that are stand outs among a field of 11 that submitted applications for the first round of waivers under No Child Left Behind. But there are questions—sometimes big questions—surrounding key parts of the remaining nine states’ plans.

The new report, out this morning, identifies potentially significant weaknesses in some states’ plans, including: a lack of attention to individual subgroups, and a lack of information about the capacity to actually implement new teacher-evaluation systems.

Some of these findings—such as a new emphasis on “super subgroups"—were covered in EdWeek’s extensive package of stories about the waivers.

So the report adds to the growing body of research into the promises, and pitfalls, of these new state-led accountability systems. (The report has a number of really handy charts that examine different issues, such as state approaches to teacher evaluations, on a state-by-state basis.)

The Center’s Jeremy Ayers, a senior education policy analyst, evaluated states on how clear their goals and school ratings were, how they treated subgroups in their accountability systems, and how ready they were to implement new evaluation systems, among other things.

Along those lines, two states turned in “stand out” applications: Massachusetts and Tennessee, which were praised for clear and challenging goals, ready-to-implement evaluation systems, and solid data infrastructures. The report, however, does still raise concerns about Massachusetts’ attention to subgroups, and raises red flags about problems Tennessee has had in implementing its new teacher-evaluation system.

Five states were classified as “middle of the pack": Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Minnesota, and New Mexico, which had some positives and negatives. Among the problems in these states: Colorado’s data system can’t link student data to individual or multiple teachers, Florida’s plan makes it unclear whether schools would be held accountable for subgroup performance, and Indiana didn’t specify what factors would be used in new teacher evaluations. In Minnesota’s plan, student achievement goals were not clearly ambitious, and New Mexico needs legislation to enact its teacher-evaluation plans.

The remaining four states fell in the “needs more detail” category: Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey, and Oklahoma. Among Georgia’s problems are its lack of a growth model, and Kentucky is dinged for setting confusing goals (which involve things like “standard deviations”). New Jersey doesn’t provide much detail at all on its new accountability system, while Oklahoma’s rating system seems a bit confusing, the report found.

What’s more, the Center has some good advice for the Education Department: Don’t rush to approve every application, demand more information (especially about subgroups, teacher-evaluation reforms, and reducing burden on districts, and schools), and carefully scrutinize how each state deals with subgroups.