Secretary to Weigh NCLB Waivers for Crisis on a Case-by-Case Basis

By Lynn Olson — September 13, 2005 3 min read

Besides scrambling to find teachers, textbooks, and classroom space for the estimated 300,000-plus students displaced by Hurricane Katrina, schools taking in the evacuees are waiting to see whether they’ll have to bring them up to the proficient level on state tests in order to make adequate yearly progress under federal law.

The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, has asked U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and members of Congress to waive accountability provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act for schools hit by the hurricane as well as those taking in large numbers of new students. But in an interview aired on National Public Radio on Sept. 4, the secretary said she was not inclined to suspend the AYP rules.

“We don’t want to write off the school year academically for these kids and shouldn’t, at least not yet,” Ms. Spellings said during the interview.

In a subsequent, online forum hosted by the White House on Sept. 6, the secretary appeared to moderate that stance.

“We will be working closely with state and local officials in the coming days to discuss the implications for No Child Left Behind state testing and accountability requirements and, on a case-by-case basis, we will be flexible with certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act as they emerge,” she said.

And in a Sept. 7 conference call with reporters, Ms. Spellings re-emphasized that she would look at requests on an individual basis.

“One of the things that the community is asking for is this broad-blanket, nationwide sort of waiver approach, which does not seem to be in order at the moment,” she said.

The nearly 4-year-old federal law requires states to calculate whether schools and districts are making adequate progress based on the test scores of students enrolled for a “full academic year.” Schools and districts receiving federal Title I money for disadvantaged children that fail to meet their targets are subject to a range of increasingly stiff consequences.

One concern is that if Secretary Spellings does not provide some reprieve from the AYP requirements, schools could have a disincentive to enroll students displaced by the hurricane in a timely fashion and to keep them enrolled on a continuous basis.

In Texas, which was expecting to enroll as many as 70,000 evacuees, AYP calculations are based on the performance of students enrolled on the “fall-enrollment-snapshot date,” typically the last Friday in October. In both Louisiana and Mississippi, the two states most severely affected by Hurricane Katrina, students must be continuously enrolled in school from Oct. 1 to the date of state testing.

Concern Down the Road

By early last week, more than 300 displaced students had shown up in the 44,600-student Alief Independent School District, on the far southwest side of the Houston metropolitan area.

“We’re going to enroll them regardless [of the AYP implications]. These children have nowhere else to go, and Houston is absolutely full of evacuees,” said Sarah B. Winkler, the president of the Alief school board.

But she added that it would be unfair to hold the schools or their new students accountable for performance on Texas tests that cover material not taught in the children’s home state of Louisiana.

“If we get 1,000 students, how is that fair to us to count that against us for adequate yearly progress?” she said.

Other school officials said they would cope with federal accountability requirements later, but for now they have more immediate concerns.

“We have no homes, we have no schools for them to go to,” said Sue Matheson, the superintendent of the 2,000-student Pass Christian school system on Mississippi’s ravaged Gulf Coast. “Certainly, the priority right now is not on test scores.”

Charity O. Smith, the director of accountability for the state education department in Arkansas, a destination for many evacuees, said that her state’s schools “are going to take in the students regardless of AYP impact. They’re simply going to do that.” But, from a practical point of view, she cautioned, people are going to become concerned about such issues down the road.

“I just left a disaster-relief center, and I visited with a number of the youngsters and their parents,” Ms. Smith said. “Many of the youngsters are not ready for school emotionally. That kind of assessment is going to be individual, student by student, getting them ready, because they’ve been traumatized.”

Staff Writers Michelle R. Davis and Alan Richard contributed to this report.
A version of this article appeared in the September 14, 2005 edition of Education Week as Secretary to Weigh NCLB Waivers for Crisis on a Case-by-Case Basis

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Project Manager
United States
K12 Inc.
High School Permanent Substitute Teacher
Woolwich Township, NJ, US
Kingsway Regional School District
MS STEM Teacher
Woolwich Township, NJ, US
Kingsway Regional School District
Speech Therapist - Long Term Sub
Woolwich Township, NJ, US
Kingsway Regional School District

Read Next

Federal Biden Calls for $130 Billion in New K-12 Relief, Scaled Up Testing, Vaccination Efforts
President-elect Joe Biden proposed new aid for schools as part of a broader COVID-19 relief plan, which will require congressional approval.
5 min read
First-grade teacher Megan Garner-Jones, left, and Principal Cynthia Eisner silent clap for their students participating remotely and in-person at School 16, in Yonkers, N.Y., on Oct. 20, 2020.
First-grade teacher Megan Garner-Jones, left, and Principal Cynthia Eisner silent clap for their students participating remotely and in-person at School 16, in Yonkers, N.Y.
Mary Altaffer/AP
Federal Who Is Miguel Cardona? Education Secretary Pick Has Roots in Classroom, Principal's Office
Many who've worked with Joe Biden's pick for education secretary say he's ready for what would be a giant step up.
15 min read
Miguel Cardona, first-time teacher, in his fourth-grade classroom at Israel Putnam School in Meriden, Ct. in August of 1998.
Miguel Cardona, chosen to lead the U.S. Department of Education, photographed in his 4th-grade classroom at Israel Putnam School in Meriden, Conn., in 1998.
Courtesy of the Record-Journal
Federal Obama Education Staff Involved in Race to the Top, Civil Rights Join Biden's White House
Both Catherine Lhamon and Carmel Martin will serve on President-elect Joe Biden's Domestic Policy Council.
4 min read
Federal Opinion What Conservatives Should Be for When It Comes to Education
Education is ultimately about opportunity, community, and empowerment, and nothing should resonate more deeply with the conservative heart.
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty