District of Columbia, Tennessee Awarded NCLB Waiver Extensions

Last week, the Obama administration approved the District of Columbia's request for a one-year extension of its waiver from key sections of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This extension will apply to this school year and includes plans that will expand support for struggling schools and eliminate the use of science tests for determining a school's performance evaluation.

Most schools across the country are working at modifying their testing and accountability systems, writes Michael Alison Chandler of The Washington Post. New math and reading assessments aligned to Common Core standards are scheduled for introduction this school year.

The District's school system will not use student test scores as an evaluation of teacher and principals this year.

"America's schools and classrooms are undergoing some of the largest changes in decades — changes that will help prepare our students with the critical thinking and problem-solving skills that tomorrow's economy will require," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a news release Friday. "This extension will allow the states to continue the critical work of implementing the bold reforms they developed to improve achievement for all students."

Although it has been due for reauthorization since 2007, the federal education law has faced repeated barriers in Congress. The law requires that all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014, but waivers have allowed many states to create their own goals for student and school performance improvement. They have also been allowed some autonomy in the manner in which they use federal education funds.

Last year, during a federal review, it was discovered that the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), which is the agency that measures compliance with the waiver, was not observing whether the lowest-performing schools were organizing and progressing in the key areas, such as leadership, curriculum, staffing, and family interaction.

Some charter school leaders and D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, said adding science tests would be difficult since the District's accountability system is in the process of adapting to the Common Core curriculum. New science standards were scheduled to go into effect this school year, now they will be delayed until spring of 2016. Laura Slover, board member, cast the only dissenting vote.

"We have cultivated, finally, a need for and a commitment to science, and I don't want to see it die," Slover (Ward 3) said at the meeting. "I am very uncomfortable at this point lowering our expectations for kids, for teachers and for schools."

Tennessee got a one-year extension on its waiver as well, according to Joey Garrison, writing for The Tennessean. There are 43 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico that have NCLB flexibility, most of which have expired this summer. Thirty-four of these states have asked for extensions. Including D.C. and Tennessee, 23 states have been cleared for these extensions.

"This extension will allow the states to continue the critical work of implementing the bold reforms they developed to improve achievement for all students," Duncan said in a statement.

Indiana, however, was still on the wait list. The Indiana Department of Education (IDE) submitted a plan explaining how the state's new academic standards and assessment plan would tie in with the federal government's waiver requirements. Claire McInerny, reporting for the Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations, says that originally, the US Department of Education told the IDE they would have an answer by the end of July. The IDE was told at the end of August that it would receive an extension with no conditions.

The only state that had their waiver revoked was Washington state.

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