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Duncan Offers Short-Term NCLB Relief for Waiver Seekers

States that can't meet the initial deadlines for getting their plans together for No Child Left Behind Act waivers can get temporary flexibility to buy them more time.

That's according to department officials who presented an overview of the Obama administration's plan to grant states flexibility under NCLB. In a webinar for states on Tuesday, officials said that states can request to hold this school year's proficiency targets steady at last year's levels. As the 2014 deadline approaches for schools to get all students proficient in math and reading, proficiency targets keep going up, making it harder for schools to make adequate yearly progress, or AYP. As they fail to make AYP, they face sanctions. This temporary flexibility would give schools a year of breathing room. (Check out slide 19 of this PowerPoint for a short explanation of the department's plans.)

To be freed from that 2014 deadline, and to have more flexibility in using Title I money, states will have to agree to do three main things. They will have to adopt college- and career-ready standards and tie state tests to them, adopt a differentiated accountability system that focuses on 15 percent of the most troubled schools, and create guidelines for teacher and principal evaluation systems that will be based partly on student growth and used for personnel decisions.

The first application deadline for states' plans is Nov. 14. The second will be in mid-February. States that get their applications in by then will, if approved, get their waivers by the end of this school year. With the temporary flexibility, states will be able to apply again later, but those waivers won't be available until after the start of the 2011-12 school year.

And, department officials are making clear that even though they are setting a "high bar" for states to clear before waivers will be granted, they want all states eventually to get a waiver.

States will have multiple opportunities to answer questions and clarify their plans for peer reviewers, and will be able to apply in subsequent rounds if needed. In addition, department officials are holding multiple webinars and meetings, and will host in-person office hours, to help states along.

"Our goal is to get every state to the finish line," said a department official, according to the audio of the webinar.

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