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Big Suburban District Leaders Favor Staggered Testing for NCLB Waiver States

The U.S. Department of Education is expected to unveil its No Child Left Behind Act waiver-renewal guidelines as early as the middle of next month, so advocacy groups are getting their ideas in now.

The latest proposal comes from the 16 superintendents who make up the Large Countywide and Suburban District Consortium. The organization is chaired by J. Alvin Wilbanks, the superintendent of Gwinnett County Schools in Georgia (this year's Broad Prize co-recipient). And the co-chair in Joshua Starr, the superintendent in Montgomery County, Md., who is also developing a national profile on K-12 policy.

So what do they recommend?

• The group agrees with both teachers' unions and former President Bill Clinton: Grade-span testing at key points, or testing that just samples certain students, should be an option for districts. There should be fewer and better local assessments, and less focus on the state summative tests. States and districts could pilot this strategy to start out with.

• The department should think outside the box when it comes to assessments and data, including allowing states and districts to experiment with competency-based systems, which look at student mastery of certain skills, and performance tasks. That's something New Hampshire is already in talks with the department about.

• Waiver states are transitioning to new assessments, so they should get at least two years before they have to incorporate student-growth data.

• The department shouldn't force states to use state test results in teacher evaluations. Local assessments or local tests combined with state tests can be a great measure of student learning, the district leaders say. (I'm sure many policymakers Washington state, which lost its waiver because it allows districts to choose between using state or local assessments in evaluations, would second this recommendation.)

Read the full letter here.

Why is everyone so interested in waiver renewal guidance? It's seen as the Obama administration's last big shot to put its stamp on implementation of the NCLB law before U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Company pack up their bags in January of 2017. Check out what civil groups want from the renewal guidance here.

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