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Ed. Dept. to Scrutinize Standards and Test Plans for NCLB Waiver

The U.S. Education Department expanded a bit yesterday on what states will have to do to get waivers from some of NCLB's requirements. And there are some interesting tidbits in there pertaining to the "college and career ready" standards and tests they have to embrace as a condition of getting NCLB relief. (See my blog post from last week for a refresher on the standards-and-assessments part of the waiver process.)

In a "review guidance" document posted on its website yesterday, the Ed. Department details the process by which it will decide who gets waivers and who doesn't. As my colleague Michele McNeil reports over at the Politics K-12 blog, a group of external peer reviewers will wield considerable power in this process, and they're going to be paying a boatload of detailed, nuanced attention to the standards issue.

As Michele reports, judges will ask about the state's plans to provide professional development and high-quality instructional materials for the new standards. They will ask whether the state plans to increase access to college-level courses, dual-enrollment courses, and other accelerated learning opportunities. And they'll ask whether the state plans to work with colleges of education to make sure pre-service teachers are prepared for the standards. It's obvious that the Ed. Department understands that it's not enough to simply adopt the common standards—or a set of standards certified by a good chunk of the state's public universities as connoting college readiness. States also have to do some heavy lifting to get their teaching corps ready to teach them.

States that have not adopted the common standards (that's you, Texas, Alaska, Virginia, Montana and Nebraska) will have to have a sizable portion of their public universities sign a pledge that mastery of the standards means students will not have to take remedial classes in math or English/language arts.

This is a familiar theme, from the Race to the Top Assessment competition. To have an attractive application for that funding, state consortia had to get as many of their states' public universities as possible to say that they would support the work to design tests that signify readiness for credit-bearing work. And both consortia got pretty hefty support from their colleges. The pledge to support the test-design work, though, is quite a different thing than having universities look at the finished tests—and the jointly decided cut score—and say that they signify readiness for non-remedial work. And it's also a different thing than having the universities actually agree to use the test scores to put students right into credit-bearing work. This is worth keeping an eye on.

The reviewer guidance will explore how "realistic" a state's plan is to transition to the new college- and career-ready standards, and how likely it is that all students, including those learning English and those with disabilities, will be tended to in the process.

Reviewers will also want to know about the state's plans to increase the rigor of its assessments to reflect the common (or college-ready) standards. It lists options for adding rigor such as raising the cut score on states' current tests, adding questions to the tests, aiming for the "advanced" instead of the "proficient" level, or using colleges' own placement tests to determine college readiness. They will also inquire into whether states plan to use tests developed by the Race to Top Assessment consortia.

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