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Kansas Tried for Local Tests Under NCLB Waiver, But Pulled Plug For Now

Now that the U.S. Department of Education has given New Hampshire permission to try local assessments in certain grades, will it be easy for other states to get the same flexibility?

Maybe not, if Kansas' experience is any guide.

In its application for a renewal of its waiver from mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act, submitted earlier this spring, Kansas had asked the U.S. Department of Education to allow a collection of about half a dozen districts—known in the state as "districts of innovation"—to try out their own tests as a pilot project.

The pilot would only have been available to schools with a track record of success, and was intended in part to "shrink the footprint" of the state assessment to allow for more instructional time.

The Sunflower State, and these districts in particular, have some history in this area. The feds allowed at least two of the districts in question to give the ACT to high school students in lieu of the state tests.

So will Kansas be the second state to get the nod on local assessments? Maybe not so fast. The Education Department advised Kansas earlier this spring that the districts' plan, which has state buy-in, wasn't in line with what New Hampshire has gotten permission to do, Kansas officials said. 

If districts want to work with their states to pilot a new assessment that could eventually go statewide, they must test students annually in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, the department told Kansas, according to Brad Neuenswander, the interim state commissioner. (Kansas appears to have been following through on the annual assessment requirement, at least according to its proposed testing schedule.)

And states that want to have a local pilot must ensure that the results of those tests can be correlated with the state assessment. (That can be really hard to do, as Nebraska found out back in the early days of NCLB.)

The Education Department worried that the local assessment ask could hold up Kansas' entire waiver renewal application, and suggested that the state and the districts pursue it separately. Kansas took them up on that suggestion, and resubmitted its application last week, without the pilot. The state will work with the districts who were interested in local assessments to figure out next steps, Neuenswander said.

Kansas isn't the only state to want in on New Hampshire's flexibility. Colorado used its waiver application to let the department know it would like to begin to work on something similar to New Hampshire's local assessment pilot, but, unlike Kansas, it didn't have a full-fledged request ready for federal review.

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