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Ohio Lawmakers Appear to Reach Deal Related to NCLB Waiver

One detail that may have been lost in the news last month that the U.S. Department of Education granted waivers from provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act to eight states is Ohio's waiver, while not technically conditional, depended on action from lawmakers. Ohio was told by the department that if it did not implement a new school accountability system as part of its waiver agreement, that waiver would be revoked for the 2013-14 school year.

It appears as though state legislators want to avoid testing the department on that front. Lawmakers this week reached a deal on a new school grading system, the Columbus Dispatch reported, that appears to be a compromise between Republican Gov. John Kasich and some legislators who thought his accountability system would be implemented too quickly.

In an interview, Ohio Sen. Peggy Lehner, the chairwoman of the state Senate's education committee, told me that some of her colleagues were nervous about the implementation of an A-F school grading system that Kasich wanted to begin in the 2012-13 school year. She said lawmakers were nervous about "springing something" on districts next year they weren't prepared for, and the Senate passed a measure that would have delayed a new accountability school system for a year, while a blue-ribbon task force examined the best metrics to use in the new grading system.

Now, Lehner said, lawmakers have reached a compromise. She said that while the A-F system will still apply for the 2012-13 school year, as Kasich desired, lawmakers will have more time to consider the specific metrics for the system. According to Lehner, lawmakers must reach an agreement on the new A-F system's metrics in their "lame-duck" session in November, and that agreement will then be used to evaluate schools for the 2012-13 year.

"I'm confident that will happen," Lehner said.

Another compromise between Kasich and lawmakers has apparently been reached on 3rd-grade reading proposals. Legislation championed by Kasich would have required most 3rd-grade students to reach at least a proficient score on a reading exam in order to advance to the 4th grade beginning in the 2012-13 school year. But again, senators initially balked, instead passing a law that would have made a "limited" score the cut-off for 3rd graders to advance, on the grounds that Kasich's proposal would have been too much of a leap too quickly for too many students. Senators wanted the cutoff score raised gradually to "proficient."

Lehner said that under the compromise the new cutoff score for 3rd-grade reading will initially be set somewhere between "limited" and "proficient" and will gradually increase to proficient.

Lawmakers also have agreed to soften a proposal from Kasich that teachers rated ineffective for two consecutive years would have to take a content-knowledge test and be dismissed if they failed that test. Lehner said the original bill from Kasich, however, was silent on the next step for teachers if they passed that test. The new deal is that teachers who pass that content-knowledge test will now be directed to specific professional development programs depending on their needs.

Despite the disagreements between Kasich and lawmakers, Lehner denied that a sour relationship had developed between her and the governor's office on school matters during the negotiations on Kasich's proposals.

"We have a governor very, very committed to education reform," she said. "Sometimes he's very impatient to get that reform in place as soon as possible. He and I share identical goals, frankly."

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