College & Workforce Readiness

UPDATED: NCLB Waivers for States That Decline Common Standards, Tests?

By Catherine Gewertz — October 13, 2011 2 min read
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We know that when it comes to No Child Left Behind, states are the huddled masses yearning to be free. So it’s no surprise that the Education Department’s offer to excuse them from some of the law’s most burdensome requirements has drawn 39 official declarations of intent to apply. [UPDATE]: Arizona and Utah join the list of states intending to apply. See our story.

As my colleague Michele McNeil of the Politics K12 blog points out, these are just intentions. They’re not binding, so any of these states can decide not to apply for waivers. Likewise, some states that didn’t file notices of intent could still decide to apply.

That said, there are a couple intriguing tidbits to note when it comes to the intersection between the official intenders and the common standards and common assessments.

You will recall from earlier blogging here that a key requirement for states seeking a waiver is that they have adopted “college- and career-ready standards” and assessments. The standards don’t have to be the common ones that 44 states and the District of Columbia have already adopted. But if they’re not, a state will have to certify, through its public higher education system, that its standards are tough enough that mastery of them will serve as a passport allowing students to skip remedial courses in college and go right into credit-bearing work.

When it comes to assessments, waiver rules say that states will have to show that they’ve got a good plan to make sure that their tests connote college- and career-readiness. They can do that in various ways, including beefing up existing tests, setting higher cut scores and using the tests designed by the assessment consortia. But it’s not exactly clear yet whether the Education Department will treat consortium membership as a proxy for “good enough.”

So let’s look at who intends to apply for waivers and how that list intersects with common-standards adoptions and participating in a consortium to design common assessments.

Seeking a waiver without totally embracing the common standards: So far, three applicants are going this route. Puerto Rico didn’t adopt them, and Minnesota adopted only the English/language arts. Virginia didn’t adopt the standards, but reports that it aligned its own standards to the common ones. Keep your eye on how easy these states find it to get their institutions of higher education to give their blessing to their content standards. (Texas, Montana, Alaska, and Nebraska didn’t adopt the common standards, but also didn’t file notices of intent to seek waivers.)

Seeking a waiver without participating in the common-assessment work: Once again, Minnesota, Virginia, and Puerto Rico. They are not participating in an assessment consortium, so they will have to prove their tests are tough enough to connote college- and -career readiness. (The other states who are sitting out the consortia work are Texas, Alaska, and Nebraska, which, as you know, didn’t file notices of intent to seek waivers.)

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.