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Could NCLB Waivers Affect Common Standards, Tests?

The weekend brought some intriguing news: the U.S. Department of Education is getting ready to grant states some wiggle room to get out of selected requirements of No Child Left Behind.

As my colleague Michele McNeil reports, EdSec Arne Duncan's conference call with reporters didn't provide a wealth of detail yet on the department's plans (check Michele's blog post for amusing details on reporters' attempts to ferret out more information). So we're still largely in the speculation department here.

But an Ed Department spokesman said that the relief would be granted in exchange for states' promises to adopt a specific basket of reform strategies. And Race to the Top and other high-profile federal programs have clearly illustrated the administration's priorities. For Curriculum Matters purposes, we'll cut right to the pertinent ones: common, college-and-career-ready standards and tests linked to those standards.

So for those of you following the common-standards-and-assessments debates, it will be interesting to monitor what states propose to change about their own NCLB accountability systems and what they're willing to promise in order to get those freedoms.

Since so many states have already adopted the common standards and joined the consortia working on the tests, though, the administration doesn't seem to have much of a lever left there. I guess states that haven't adopted the standards could reconsider if they really, really, really want out of other NCLB straitjackets, but that doesn't seem likely, given the vigor, ahem, with which some of those states have abstained (think Texas, Virginia).

A few others could conceivably bite, since they are already considering adoption (think Montana, North Dakota) and might be able to get brownie points for officially adopting under the waiver program, depending on how it plays out. Then again, those that have already adopted the standards could argue that it shows their commitment to higher standards, and means they deserve a bit of a break on the achievement timeline. Arkansas and Kansas tried to do this, albeit without success (so far).

When it comes to common assessments, perhaps the administration's dangling carrot of NCLB waivers could lure the remaining five nonparticipating states into joining one of the two assessment consortia. But once again, most of the nonparticipants have been vigorous enough about their nonparticipation that this doesn't seem likely. One possibility, however, is that NCLB waivers could keep states from dropping out of the consortia. Once again, depending on how the waiver program shapes up, if part of a state's promise to get waivers involves using the common assessments, that would be an additional layer of commitment that states in those consortia don't currently have.

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