On the day a Senate committee is holding hearings on the waivers granted under No Child Left Behind, the Education Trust released a report criticizing the Obama administration's flexibility plan for failing to address the needs of at-risk students.
The report called "A Step Forward or a Step Back? State Accountability in the Waiver Era," reiterates many of the criticisms the Ed Trust and other advocacy groups have raised. It clearly shows that although some of the Ed Trust's ideas were incorporated into the waiver requirements, the advocacy group is unhappy with how these waivers are playing out. Their report identifies four big problems with the waivers:
- Goals don't count for much: Although states were required to set ambitious goals for raising achievement and closing gaps, they didn't require those goals to count in school ratings. The report calls out New Mexico, for example, for allowing a school to get an "A" grade even if a school consistently misses goals for its Native American students.(For more background on the varied goals set by states, which can vary by race, read this EdWeek story.)
- "Super subgroups" remain a problem: While Ed Trust says these "super subgroups", which combine small subgroups into a larger one, can be a good thing, they are not a good thing in many states. The report says few states put protections in place to ensure one group of students' struggles aren't lost in a larger subgroup. And, the Ed Trust calls out Indiana for only counting subgroup performance for "bonus points" in its rating system. (For more about "super subgroups", read this EdWeek story.)
- States didn't use multiple measures: Despite criticism that NCLB focused too much on a single test score, when given an opportunity to use multiple measures in an accountability system most states didn't, the report found. What's more, states that did use multiple measures often only looked at overall performance on something like Advanced Placement, ignoring the performance of individual at-risk subgroups. (For details on what states use in their accountability system, see these handy EdWeek charts for waivers submitted in round one, round two, and round three.)
- Plans for low-performing schools are good, not great: In particular, the report says, many states are vague in spelling out how districts will be responsible for turning around the most struggling schools. They single out Maryland and Georgia (two Race to the Top states that are also struggling!) for only requiring more planning when schools persistently fail to improve.