Eight more states—all but two of them Race to the Top grant recipients—have been granted waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act, out of the 26 states and the District of Columbia that applied for waivers from the federal law in February, the U.S. Department of Education announced Tuesday.
Receiving flexibility in this second round of waivers are Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island. Except for Connecticut and Louisiana, all of them are were winners of the federal Race to Top grant competition.
The latest round of waivers leaves 18 states and the District of Columbia (another Race to Top winner) still waiting to hear whether their waiver applications will be approved by the department. The department indicated that it plans to approve several more waiver plans in the next several weeks, but did not provide a more specific timeline Tuesday. The department granted waivers from NCLB to 11 other states earlier this year.
The department broke down the highlights from the waiver agreements into college- and career-ready expectations, state and district accountability and student support, and effective teaching and leadership.
"We're still working with everybody. These were applications that were further ahead," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a conference call with reporters May 29.
Duncan also stressed that even with the large presence of Race to Top states in the most recent round of waiver winners, there was a "good mix" of both Race to Top states and states that did not receive Race to Top grants.
He also reiterated the department's firm stance that states "absolutely do not have to adopt the common core" academic standards in order to gain an advantage in the waiver process. However, it's worth noting that Virginia is one of a handful of states that has not adopted the Common Core State Standards and is still waiting to hear about its waiver request, even though it got positive remarks from reviewers initially on its standards outlined in its waiver application? All eight states to get the most recent round of waivers have adopted the common core.
The following is a breakdown of the changes states made to their applications after feedback from the department on their initial waiver applications, according to a senior department official. A few common themes: states revising their plans to incorporate results from pilot teacher evaluations systems, to lower the minimum size of a student subgroup that can be used for accountability purposes, and to track student participation rates on state tests.
Connecticut provided additional details for its plan to transition students with disabilities to general assessments by 2014-15. It also provided more details on schools in turnaround status to ensure that only schools making dramatic progress can exit that status, and only after implementing turnaround strategies for three years. It adjusted its school performance index to set a higher standards for all student groups, in order to ensure that there was no possibility for higher-achieving students to compensate for lower-achieving students. Connecticut also lowered the minimum size of a student demographic group that must be tracked for accountability purposes to 20 students from 40.
Responding to a specific comment from the department's peer reviewers, Delaware (like Connecticut) moved to increase the number of student subgroups used for accountability purposes by reducing the minimum "n-size" of a subgroup from 40 to 30. The state also changed its exit criteria for "focus" schools so that the performance of subgroups that caused a school to be placed in the "focus" category also determines what will get the school out of that category. It also provided more details on how its Race to Top plans would help its waiver plans.
Louisiana went back and specified that it would use results from the pilot of its new teacher evaluation system to make changes to that system. Some areas where the system has been tweaked, based on those results, including the reduction of the number of teacher performance levels from five to four, and refining the portion of the evaluation system that judges teachers based on observations. It streamlined its graduation index by including in its revised request only four-year cohort graduation rates, five-year cohort graduation rates, and the number of GEDs.
Like Connecticut, Maryland provided more details on transitioning students who currently take alternative state assessments to general assessments, although it has a more ambitious timeline by planning those transitions for the 2012-13 school year. Like Louisiana, it also got points from the department for incorporating results from its teacher evaluation system pilot into the system. It also provided more details on how districts that use their own model to evaluate teachers follow certain state guidelines for those evaluations.
North Carolina provided more details on its teacher evaluation system guidelines, and gave more information on the extent to which student growth must be a part of those evaluations. The state clarified that teachers must meet the expectations on all parts of their evaluations, including student growth, in order to be rated as effective. There are now escalating consequences for schools that repeatedly fail to meet the target participation rate of students on state tests of 95 percent.
As in North Carolina, there are now increasing consequences for New York schools for not meeting participation rates on state exams. If there is a repeated problem in this area, the state must audit the school. The state clarified how teacher evaluations will inform professional development. In addition, in order to exit "focus" school status, the school must exceed the standards used to identify "focus" schools initially, and must also increase their scores on a performance index.
Ohio is the one state where the department wants to make sure that the school accountability system proposed in the waiver is actually approved by lawmakers in its key respects. The situation is similar to the department's conditions attached to Oklahoma's (ultimately successful) waiver application earlier this year. The state also agreed, per the department's request, to place a greater emphasis on graduation rates in terms of school accountability. Ohio also elaborated on how it would institute a statewide support network for all schools, and how it would provide technical assistance to "priority" and "focus" schools.
Joining New York and North Carolina, Rhode Island agreed to institute escalating consequences for a school's failure to meet certain state test participation rates. It also elaborated on the idea of the "super-subgroup" it would use for accountability purposes by identifying how it would use stakeholders to support advocates of the various demographics included in that larger group.
Photo: From left, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan participate in a discussion about education reform on May 29 at Jepson School in New Haven, Conn. Connecticut was one of eight additional states granted waivers Tuesday from the No Child Left Behind Act. (Melanie Stengel/The New Haven Register/AP)