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Connecticut Wins Flexibility in Accountability for ELLs

First posted on Politics K-12

By Alyson Klein

And now there are 31. The U.S. Department of Education just approved seven additional renewals of state flexibility from the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act. The states are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Mississippi, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin.

Alabama, Connecticut, Mississippi, and Wisconsin each got three-year renewals through the 2017-18 school year, meaning they won't have to make another ask during President Barack Obama's tenure (if waivers even last that long.)

Mississippi's approval comes fresh off the state's decision to select a vendor--Pearson--to design the state's common core-linked assessment, after the Magnolia state ditched the Patnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Wisconsin, meanwhile, is still searching for a test after getting rid of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, or SBAC.

Arizona, Arkansas, and New Hampshire each got one-year waivers. Arizona's one-year waiver stems in part from recent civil rights concerns with English Language Learners.

And New Hampshire's renewal period is shortened because the state must provide evidence, by October 2015,  that its high school assessment is of high quality. The Granite State had proposed switching from SBAC to the College Board's SAT, in part to cut down on the number of tests high school juniors must take. New Hampshire also has some work to do on teacher and principal evaluations.

Arkansas, which recently dumped PARCC and is moving towards offering the ACT, another college entrance exam, must also show that its test meets quality benchmarks. And the state needs to show how it plans to include student growth in teacher evaluation system.

Other things to note:

  • Connecticut essentially got the same deal as Florida when it comes to assessing English-language learners. Under the Nutmeg State's renewed waiver, schools won't have to count the achievement of students who have been in the country for less than two years for accountability purposes. (The NCLB law says achievement of ELLs has to count after a kid has attended U.S. schools for one year.) Crucially, however, Connecticut will still need to incorporate the growth, or progress, of ELLs into school ratings during their second year of education in this country. Other states have askedthe department for other kinds of flexibility on ELLs and been denied, or told to pursue their requests separately. But importantly, those states weren't planning to include growth in the second year. This is a really big deal, because when and how to incorporate ELLs for accountability purposes is a sleeper issue in the debate over NCLB reauthorization
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