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Will Other NCLB Waiver States Want to Try Local Tests?

By Alyson Klein — March 19, 2015 2 min read
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Last week, when New Hampshire got the go-ahead to try a local, performance-based assessments in place of state tests under its waiver from the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act, the big question was ... will other states want to try this too? And if so, will the U.S. Department of Education allow it?

It seems the answer to that first question, at least, is yes.

A bill currently pending in the Kentucky legislature would permit “districts of innovation” to propose local assesment systems in lieu of state tests, as long as they get permission from both the feds and the state. These local assessment systems would have to be consistent with the NCLB law. (That’s not an easy bar to jump over, as Nebraska found out the hard way back in 2008.) If the legislation passes, the Bluegrass State may seek to amend its waiver application to accomodate the change.

Colorado appears to be interested in pursuing something very similar in its waiver-renewal request, which isn’t due to the feds until the end of the month. According to an outline of the proposed renewal request, Colorado would like to develop a plan for piloting an alternative accountability system that would allow a select number of districts to try out performance-based assessments in certain grades, as opposed to the state summative test. (That’s not the only interesting thing that the Centennial State is mulling in its renewal request. More on that below, and in this blog post.)

It appears that Colorado isn’t actually proposing the pilot right now. It seems the state will just use its renewal application to let the feds know that it ... plans to plan a pilot. Presumably, that would allow the department to help the state come up with a proposal that will pass muster. And it seems like it would be pretty hard for the department to say to the state, “No, you can’t make a plan.”

But actually approving the state’s request seems could be a whole different ball of wax. In giving New Hampshire the green light on its local assessment pilot earlier this month, the department went out of its way to explain why the Granite State—and its request—was very special, in part because the state had been working on competency-based learning for years and had spent a lot of time working with its district to find ways to make the performance tasks “comparable” among districts. The underlying message is that not everyone would be able to jump over that bar.

Meanwhile, the possible local testing pilot isn’t the only notable part of Colorado’s proposal, which hasn’t yet been submitted to the feds, meaning there could still be changes.

The state also wants to delay counting English-language learners for accountability purposes until ELLs have been in the country for two years. The NCLB law expects those students to count after just one year. But Florida recently got flexibility for the two-year window, after a long (and somewhat bitter) standoff with the department. So clearly, other states want to see if they’ll be able to get a similar deal.

Maybe the most interesting potential ask from Colorado has to do with language on “opting out” of standardized state tests. More here.

What’s more, states may be looking for further leeway on another key part of the waivers: teacher evaluation. Connecticut, for example, is seeking to delay incorporating test scores into teacher performance reviews until the 2016-17 school year. (That appears to be one year longer than the feds have explicitly allowed—and it’s beyond the end of the Obama administration.)