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Every Student Succeeds Act

NCLB Waivers Carry Lessons for Shift to ESSA, Says Congressional Watchdog

By Alyson Klein — August 09, 2016 1 min read
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The Every Student Succeeds Act cedes a lot of control over accountability systems to states. But under No Child Left Behind waivers, some states didn’t do such a hot job of monitoring districts’ progress on things like school improvement and implementation of college- and career-ready standards, according to a report released Monday by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative arm.

At least twelve states faced “multiple significant” challenges with waiver implementation, GAO found. Check out the chart below to see which states the agency focused on and what their challenges were:

The GAO also found that while the department is hoping to use waivers as a learning experience to inform monitoring state and district implementation of ESSA, it hasn’t yet thought through how or when it will do that. The GAO recommends the department get to that self-reflection sooner rather than later, since ESSA is about to come online.

It sounds like the department thinks it’s already well on the way to implementing that recommendation. Ann Whalen, a senior advisor to the secretary who is essentially acting as the assistant secretary of elementary and secondary, said the agency has taken stock of waiver implementation and lessons learned since ESSA’s passage.

The report was requested by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., an architect of ESSA, way back in August 2014. (Since then, of course, Congress has passed a comprehensive reauthorization of the NCLB law.) Waivers officially became a thing of the past on Aug. 1.

Read the full GAO report.