What Impact Will NCLB Waivers Have on the Consistency, Complexity, and Transparency of State Accountability Systems?

The Center on Education Policy at the George Washington University has released a study of the states whose No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver requests have been granted by the U.S. Department of Education. As of September 2012, waivers have been approved for 33 states and the District of Columbia. While those seeking waivers were generally looking to avoid the same NCLB requirements (most particularly the one that says 100 percent of students must score proficient in reading and math by 2014), the plans put forward to earn those waivers vary in a number of ways.

States for the most part are able to define for themselves what constitutes progress and achievement for the full student population as well as specific student subgroups based on race and income, among other characteristics. Under NCLB, there is considerably less room for customization of outcome measures while states granted waivers have a number of ways in which they can replace the “100 percent proficient” by 2014 requirement and other NCLB provisions. The conclusion is that there will be a lack of consistency in measuring educational achievement across the waiver states that will make comparison difficult as each state’s plan kicks in.

Ohio is not included in CEP’s review, but the specifics of its waiver are similarly illustrative of the variety of approaches states are taking. The hallmark of Ohio’s waiver application is the creation of a rigorous A-F grading system for schools, the definition of which is still being settled by state policymakers. Teacher quality ratings, a popular provision among other waiver states, are also included. Ohio is committing to having 89 percent of all students (regardless of subgroup designation) score proficient in math and 91 percent of all students score proficient in reading by 2016/17.

Additionally, Ohio is focusing on streamlining districts’ reporting processes and loosening top-down restrictions on funds for tutoring and for remediation in low-performing schools.

CEP does note that even in the midst of state-by-state customization of assessment and ratings, the introduction of the Common Core Standards in math and English language arts – currently underway in a majority of states, including Ohio – will bring a degree of uniformity across those states in the area of curriculum.

SOURCE: Wayne Riddle and Nancy Kober, What Impact Will NCLB Waivers Have on the Consistency, Complexity, and Transparency of State Accountability Systems?  (Washington, D.C.: Center on Education Policy, October 2012).

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