Six states—Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Oregon, and South Carolina—and the District of Columbia are the latest to be approved for waivers from many mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act, the U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday.
That brings the total of approved applications to 33, including almost all of the 27 applications submitted in the second round of the waiver process, which had a February deadline. Eleven states got waivers in the first go-round, announced in February.
A handful of applicants are still waiting. Vermont has dropped out of the process, but Idaho, Illinois, and Nevada still have applications pending. And even though Idaho hasn't yet gotten the go-ahead to use the new accountability plan it proposed, it's already been approved for another type of waiver, which allows the state to freeze its Annual Measurable Outcomes (the percentage of students a state wants to bring to proficiency on its tests each year).
The department has turned down Iowa's request, for now, but the state could still be on track to receive a waiver if it is able to work through some legislative hurdles dealing with its teacher-evaluation system. More background here.
California is in a bit of unique situation. It applied for a waiver— but choose not to go along with the department's conditions and went off on its own course. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan declined to comment on the specific status of the Golden State's request on a press call with reporters yesterday.
States have until Sept. 6 throw their hats in the ring for the next round of waivers. For those that don't apply, the Education Department has floated the possibility of allowing districts—presumably those in states that didn't go along with the department's conditional waiver deal—to come up with their own waiver plans. Some state chiefs aren't keen on the idea. But, if the department doesn't go through with a district-waiver plan, districts in some really big states—Texas, Pennsylvania, and potentially California—could miss the waiver boat entirely.
Duncan said the department is focused on the state process right now. But he left the door wide open when it comes to districts.
"At some point, we'll come back to the district [waivers]," he said on the conference call with reporters. "That absolutely remeains a possibility. ... Theoretically, if 50 states came in [to the current waiver process] you won't need to, but that's probably not likely."
Three of the states that got waivers Thursday—Arizona, Kansas, and Oregon—have been conditionally approved, meaning they still must put the finishing touches on some elements of their plans. For instance, Arizona still must finalize its principal and teacher-evaluation guidelines. So far, eight states are under "conditionally approved" status.
South Carolina is fully approved, but its letter includes some language saying the state needs to reach out to districts to make sure they're on board with the plan. Some background on that drama here.
To get the waiver, most of the states made changes to, or provided more detail on, their plans to hold schools accountable for the performance of students in subgroups, such as English-language learners and students in special education.
Here's a quick state-by-state run-down of some of the highlights of the plans and the changes states made to get the waivers:
• Arizona will be using a combined "supersubgroup," but the state added a protection requiring districts to target interventions to schools that aren't making progress with students in traditional subgroups, not just those that miss targets for the super-subgroup. And the state beefed-up the criteria for schools to exit "priority" (bottom 5 percent) or "focus" (next bottom 10 percent) status. Arizona is hoping to get all students to proficiency on state tests by the 2019-20 school year. It's the only state with that goal.
• The District of Columbia strengthened protections for students in special education, and made some changes to its plans for turning around the lowest-performing schools. And, importantly, the state got its charter schools to agree to adopt an evaluation system consistent with the department's requirements. In the District's original application, high-performing charter schools were allowed to opt out of that requirement.
• Kansas revamped its AMOs so that they meet the department's requirements. Kansas is planning to cut its achievement gap in half over the next six years. The state also showed that it will target its interventions to schools that don't make progress with subgroup students, even if they are not priority or focus schools.
• Michigan is also planning to use a combined subgroup of the bottom 30 percent of students in each school. The Wolverine State demonstrated to the department that the schools that will be identified for improvement under this system are the same ones that are also slipping with subgroup students.
• Mississippi also added new protections for subgroups into its accountability system and revamped its AMOs. Mississippi is aiming to cut the achievement gap in half in six years.
• Oregon went with a system for measuring student growth that's similar to Colorado's. It wants to get schools that are now performing in the middle of pack up to the level of its best schools within the next seven years. And Oregon put a strong focus on the role of districts in improving schools.
• South Carolina gave the department a lot more detail to prove its AMOs are up to snuff. It also revamped its system for approving tutoring providers. The state will continue to use an "approved provider'' list but now districts can come up with their own lists of approved providers to give to parents. They don't have to include all of the providers on the state list if they don't think they're high-quality.