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States Granted NCLB Waivers Offer Varying Goals For Helping Education Reform, According To Report

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A report released Friday by the Center for American Progress examines the measures various states that received No Child Left Behind waivers have taken to gauge school and teacher progress.

The controversial law expired in 2007, but so far Congress has failed to pass a new version, prompting the Obama administration to grant waivers to 32 states and the District of Columbia, releasing them from the toughest provisions of NCLB. This includes the requirement that all students must be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

In exchange for the waivers, states had to agree to a plan that includes implementing college- and career-ready standards, and improving teacher accountability by increasing focus on students’ standardized test scores.

According to the New York Times, the waivers allow states to “select from a menu of new goals.” The center’s report indicates that eight states have elected to reduce by half the percentage of students not testing at grade level in reading or math within six years. Meanwhile, Arizona has committed to making all of its students proficient by 2020. Most states have chosen to set their own goals.

In reviewing the state waiver applications, the center found that most states have altered their policies and practices significantly from those that were in place under NCLB. In addition, the waiver application process appeared to encourage many states to put forth a new vision for reform and communicate a comprehensive plan for improving education.

According to the center’s review, some states are proposing innovative ideas that center on ensuring all students graduate college and are career ready, implementing accountability systems and improving teacher and leader effectiveness.

Half of the states awarded waivers rejected the opportunity for additional federal funding to lengthen the school day, week or year. Those that indicated they would accept the funding were vague on details regarding how they would utilize the extra dollars.

Lastly, although states do not receive new money under the waivers, many have committed to pursuing reform despite the lack of additional funding.

The Times reports that the center also found that 14 states plan to use growth in student test scores for 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. According to the paper, there is concern on the part of education advocates that the new teacher evaluation systems could be applied too quickly.

“If there is too much sloppy implementation,” Amy Wilkins, vice president of the Education Trust, told the Times, “it will lose credibility and it will be very hard to get back that credibility.”

Also included in the report were recommendations for states and the Department of Education, including that “states should be treated as laboratories of reform that set the stage for eventual reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.” According to the report’s authors, both the successes and failures of waiver reforms should be taken into account when determining how the act is reauthorized.

In addition, the Department of Education should require -- and states should provide -- more details regarding specific aspects of their plans. This includes information on how states will ensure students have equal access to effective teachers, how their school rating system is connected to their annual goals and how they will increase learning, among other considerations.

The center also recommends the Department establish a clearing house to document and share tools, strategies and lessons of implementation -- so that states are better able to learn from other states’ successes and challenges. The Education Department could also stand to increase its staffing in an effort to ensure these waiver plans become a reality.

Finally, as states go about implementing their plans, they should do so with a clear strategy that consists of well-defined goals, mid-course corrections and established consequences for failure to make progress, according to the center’s report.

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