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Arne Duncan Extends NCLB Waivers For Five States, Some With Caveats

Five states—Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Wisconsin—will get to keep their No Child Left Behind waivers for another year, the U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday. But two of the extensions come with some pretty big buts.

For instance, Florida had sought to amend its waiver so that English-language learners were not factored into the accountability system until they have two years of instruction, to mirror state law. That flies in the face of the NCLB law, which calls for students to be included for accountability after they have been in the classroom for at least one year. The Sunshine State's request didn't fly with the feds, and that part of the waiver wasn't approved.

And Mississippi will have to end its practice of counting students who take advanced math classes before entering high school twice in its accountability system. Right now, if a middle school student takes an advanced mathematics test for accountability purposes, both the middle and high schools get credit for that score. That practice is out of line, however, with the testing requirements under No Child Left Behind, so it must stop as of this school year, the 2014-15 school year, the letter says.

And the Education Department is putting Mississippi on notice that if it wants to hold on to its waiver for more than one additional year, it will have to start incorporating special education students with severe cognitive disabilities who take alternate assessments into its "supersubgroup," which is the state's way of holding schools accountable for the bottom 25 percent of students. Importantly, though, it appears the Magnolia State gets to continue the practice of leaving those students out during the 2014-15 school year, and can keep its waiver.

The other letters are much more standard. Kentucky appears to be on track with teacher evaluation, provided that it reworks its evaluation matrix so that teachers who don't score well on the student growth portion of its evaluation system can't be considered "accomplished." And Wisconsin, like other many other states whose waivers have been extended, must continue to work on its teacher evaluation system.

Meanwhile, North Carolina, which had a letter-perfect monitoring report, finally got its waiver extension with absolutely no caveats. Why did it take so long? The state legislature was considering legislation that would have taken aim at the common core standards. Ultimately, the Tar Heel State decided simply to give the standards a thorough review.

For those keeping score at home: Forty-three states and the District of Columbia have been granted waivers, including one, Washington state, that saw its flexibility revoked. Thirty-five states will see their waivers expire this summer. The Education Department has now approved 18 extensions. And 31 states have filed extension requests.

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