Vermont Drops NCLB Waiver Application

Vermont education officials have announced that they will not continue their application for a waiver from certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act. Although the state initially filed an application with the U.S. Department of Education, they've now withdrawn in, explaining that the conditions for the waiver would be too restrictive. The Vermont Board of Ed hoped that a waiver would allow the state to opt out of yearly standardized testing, but upon finding out that this will not be possible, even if the waiver is approved, they voted on May 15th to drop their request.

"Our main interest was in being able to assess students in a more complete way and not have the arbitrary testing and all the repercussions from that, and that's not what they meant by waiver,'' said Stephan Morse, chairman of the state board of education.

The federal law, which has been up for renewal since 2007, requires all students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014. The waiver gets rid of that mandate as long as the states provide an acceptable alternative plan.

Vermont's application wasn't one of the 8 approved by the Obama administration last week. In a speech announcing the approvals, the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that the waivers would allow the states additional flexibility in determining how to spend federal education funding and give them more leeway in designing their own academic standards model.

The state initially submitted the application at the behest of the Governor Peter Shumlin, who said that the provisions of the law were actually hindering Vermont schools from providing high-quality education to its students. He hoped that the U.S. DOE would allow the state to continue using the benchmarks defined in 2009, and put in place an assessment system that would better suit the state's education system. As part of the plan, the application called for biannual rather than annual testing for grades 3 through 8, a proposal that the state's education officials discussed with their federal counterparts before submission.

Very quickly, the state learned that the application would not be accepted by the U.S. Education Department because of a lack of annual testing, he said.

Vermont modified its approach, putting annual testing back in. But a stumbling block was a requirement that a significant portion of teacher effectiveness be measured by standardized test results.

According to John Fischer, deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Education, using the New England Common Assessment Program to allow standardized test scores to become a major portion of the teacher evaluation score wasn't a decision that appealed to the state's education officials. In light of that fact, when the issue was sent back to the Governor and the state board of ed for a re-vote, they chose to drop the waiver request.

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