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 But state lawmakers turned against Common Core and this year repealed their adoption.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.

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Does Indiana’s grading system for schools leave some groups behind?

Arguably the best thing about the federal No Child Left Behind act was the way it focused attention on achievement gaps. Under NCLB, schools have been responsible for the performance of students who are poor, have disabilities, are from racial and ethnic groups, or aren’t proficient in English. They can’t hide low test scores for those subgroups behind overall averages.

Now Indiana and 10 other states are seeking waivers from NCLB’s requirements, and there’s reason for concern about whether the same level of accountability will continue for groups of students that have sometimes been left behind.

Indiana wants to use its proposed new A-to-F school grading system as a single accountability system for schools. If its waiver request is approved by the feds, no longer will schools face the confusing situation of being awarded letter grades by the state and having to worry about making “adequate yearly progress” under NCLB.

Under Indiana’s plan, instead of having to meet performance standards for each of the subgroups identified in NCLB, schools would focus on a “super subgroup” – the lowest-performing 25 percent of students.

The U.S. Department of Education suggested in a preliminary response that that may not be good enough. A letter from an assistant secretary of education, posted by the Associated Press, identified several “significant concerns” Continue reading

Indiana’s NCLB waiver plan calls for letter-grade gains, quicker state intervention

All Indiana schools will be at or above average by 2020. That’s the thrust of the state’s application to the U.S. Department of Education for waivers from complying with the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The waiver application says that, under Indiana’s A-to-F school accountability system, every school will be expected to either earn an A or improve by two full letter grades in eight years. In other words, every school in the state will get a C or better. On the way to that goal, schools are supposed improve by at least one letter grade by 2015.

It’s a high bar, maybe, but more realistic than the 2002 NCLB act’s requirement that all students be proficient on state tests by 2014.

The Department of Education invited states to apply for waivers while Congress appears stuck over reauthorizing NCLB, the latest incarnation of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Indiana is one of 11 states that met the Nov. 14 deadline for a first round of applications. (Indiana’s application can be downloaded from the department’s NCLB flexibility website).

The state says the single accountability system spelled out in the waiver request will eliminate the confusing mismatch between the federal law’s expectation that schools make “adequate yearly progress” each year and Indiana’s Public Law 221 program, in which schools get letter grades.

The request goes hand-in-hand with a couple of state rule changes now being considered by the State Board of Education. One sets new criteria for awarding letter grades to schools and districts. The other makes it easier for the state to intervene in under-performing schools.

Currently, the state can take over schools and hand them over to “turnaround school operators” if the schools get an F for six straight years. Under the proposed changes, the state can take over if a school gets an F for four straight years or an F or D for five straight years.

In place of AYP, adequate yearly progress, the new system makes use of AMOs, annual measurable objectives, that schools will need to achieve in order to make the expected grade improvements.

In place of No Child Left Behind’s attention to test scores for an array of subgroups Continue reading