The US Department of Education released new guidelines last week to chief state school officers concerning states' renewals of their No Child Left Behind Act waivers.
While the DOE is allowing states to apply for renewal of the waivers for three to four more years, more will be required than simply showing a turnaround of low-performing schools and closing student achievement gaps.
With many of the waivers set to expire this year, the renewal would be good through 2017-2018. However those schools that the DOE believes to fully meet the requirements of implementing standards on college and career-readiness, as well as the creation of teacher and principal evaluation systems based largely on student growth measures, may be able to see their waivers extend through the 2018-2019 school year.
Currently, 43 states and the District of Columbia hold waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act, which allows the states to avoid certain accountability requirements without being punished, so long as education reforms supported by the Obama administration are enacted.
Washington and Oklahoma have had their waivers revoked after failing to follow through with those reforms. Oklahoma's waiver was dropped in August after the state stopped using the Common Core standards, and Washington lost its waiver in April after problems with its teacher evaluation system were revealed.
Education advocacy groups across the country were happy to hear of the emphasis placed on having a concrete plan with regards to improving student achievement across all groups, including English language learners and low-income students, as well as not allowing states to receive high scores on state accountability reports when large achievement gaps are obvious.
"The renewal guidelines issued today begin to restore the focus of federal accountability on all groups of children," said Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, in a statement. "States will now be prohibited from giving top ratings to schools with high or improving performance for some groups, but not others. As Americans, we should welcome that renewed focus on the inequalities that eat away at our democracy."
However, teachers unions view the move as a step backward, referring to the focus on test scores as "sucking the oxygen" out of classrooms. Unions would like to see an increase in the amount of time given before teacher evaluations are linked to student test scores.
Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, said the waivers were being offered in exchange for more testing.
"The waiver guidance issued today says: No Child Left Behind failed, but you can get out of it if you have college- and career-ready standards, high-stakes testing on those standards, and teacher evaluations that rely heavily on testing," Weingarten said in a statement. "At best, it permits, and at worst, it rewards, states that habitually over-test – like Florida, whose kids now lose an average of 70 days of instruction due to testing. It lacks a concrete strategy to address the out-of-classroom factors that account for two-thirds of what affects student achievement. And sadly, even when focusing on teachers as a silver bullet, it lacks the answer to how we recruit, retain and support teachers at hard-to-staff schools."