In an unusual move, the US Department of Education has denied an application for a waiver from one of the provisions of No Child Left Behind Act submitted by the Texas Education Agency. Specifically, the state was seeking to allow students who did very well on standardized reading and math tests in 3rd and 5th grades to skip the exams in 4th, 6th and 7th grades.
However, the denial means that the state will revert to the testing schedule used prior to the measure adopted by the legislature last year – that K-8 students will be tested in reading in even grades starting with grade 4 and in math in odd grades starting with grade 3.
The DOE explained its refusal in a letter to state education authorities. Assistant Secretary of Education Deborah Delisle said that regular testing was key to ensuring continuing high performance from Texas school districts.
She wrote that annual assessment was "critical to holding schools and LEAs (local education agencies) accountable for improving the achievement of all students."
Despite sharply reducing the number of standardized tests high school students must pass to graduate, lawmakers — in response to widespread concern over the effects of excessive assessment on classroom instruction — failed this year to bring conclusive relief for students in lower grades, who take a total of 17 state tests before entering high school.
Like many states, Texas has currently applied for a separate, general waiver of No Child Left Behind.
The denial is not the end of the line, at least not according to TEA Commissioner Michael Williams. In a statement announcing the DOE decision, Williams pledged to continue working with federal education authorities to bring more NCLB flexibility to Texas schools. The Texas Tribune's Morgan Smith reports that Williams strongly panned NCLB in last year's letter defending his decision to seek a general waiver from the law, calling it an obsolete system that took away the states' discretion when it came to education policy.
Interestingly, the federal No Child Left Behind law was born in Texas, and billionaire Ross Perot was the first to rally big business to support tougher standardized testing and high school graduation standards here nearly three decades ago.
But Texas officials during this year's legislative session made it clear they now are ready to step back from the strenuous accountability policies they had long been a national leader in championing, amid fears that youngsters are being forced to take too many high-stakes tests and that too many might drop out because of higher expectations.