Indiana’s NCLB waiver mess may not be as bad as it looks

Indiana’s rejection of Common Core standards and its foot-dragging over creating a new testing system earned it a stern rebuke from the U.S. Department of Education. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s about to lose its waiver from requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act.

New American Foundation policy analyst Anne Hyslop, who tracks NCLB waiver developments, said Indiana may be able to meet the conditions for keeping and extending its waiver. It depends on whether the feds want to play hardball. And there are some indications they may not.

For Indiana, the biggest hurdle may be a requirement that it administer tests aligned with “college and career ready” standards by 2015. State law says Indiana must continue to use the ISTEP exam next year, and ISTEP isn’t considered a measure of college and career readiness.

“This could be a problem, but it’s really anyone’s guess how the department will work with the states and what the next steps will be,” Hyslop told me.

The Education Department awarded Indiana an NCLB waiver in 2012 based on the state’s adoption of Common Core and its participation in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, a consortium developing tests aligned with the new standards. But state lawmakers turned against Common Core and this year repealed their adoption. Indiana withdrew from PARCC to create its own tests.

Last week, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Deborah Delisle wrote to Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz that she was placing a condition on the waiver because Indiana wasn’t holding up its end of the deal. She said the state had 60 days to submit a “high-quality plan” explaining how it will implement college and career-ready standards and assessments by 2014-15.

The letter and an accompanying document not only objected to Indiana’s approach to standards and tests but faulted the state for not meeting expectations for technical assistance to schools, teacher and principal evaluations, turnaround procedures for low-performing schools and other issues.

Other states have received similar letters, but Indiana’s “is one of the worst monitoring reports I’ve seen just in the number of elements that were not meeting expectations,” Hyslop said. But part of the problem, she said, could be confusion over standards and assessments. How could the Indiana Department of Education provide clear guidance and support when everything was in flux?

That said, Indiana isn’t in as much trouble as Washington, which recently had its NCLB waiver revoked, or Arizona, Oregon and Kansas, which have been placed in “high risk” status by the feds.

Ritz responded with a statement that said her department is working diligently to meet the requirements and has made considerable progress since August 2013, when federal officials noted the shortcomings. She vowed to meet the 60-day deadline and win approval for the waiver. State Board of Education members, meanwhile, seem ready to blame the problems on Ritz and involve themselves in responding to the feds. They will meet Tuesday to discuss the matter.

The state board did approve new standards last week. And it may not be much of a stretch to have them certified as college and career ready. It could be done with a sign-off from state universities that students who meet the standards won’t need remedial work.

“The testing issue is really the big one going forward,” Hyslop said. Could ISTEP be tweaked next year to assure the feds Indiana is moving in the right direction. Might the Education Department give the state another year to get its testing house in order?

Hyslop said other states have managed to change their assessments without losing their waivers, suggesting the department could be flexible. There may also be concern about creating a backlash if the government gets too strict with waivers. Might not the feds’ waiver demands offend Gov. Mike Pence’s sense of Hoosier sovereignty?

Of course, No Child Left Behind is past due for reauthorization. Congress could help by eliminating the requirement that all students be proficient in math and English – which prompted the Education Department to issue waivers. But we shall not hold our breath.

2 thoughts on “Indiana’s NCLB waiver mess may not be as bad as it looks

  1. Pingback: State Board of Education member visiting schools | School Matters

  2. Pingback: Indiana’s NCLB waiver dispute: Is someone playing politics? | School Matters

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