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California Seeks NCLB Waiver From Feds Over Use of Test Scores

The California Department of Education is seeking a one-year reprieve from the U.S. Department of Education from the use of student performance on Smarter Balanced assessments in determining school performance.

The request from the California department, according to EdSource, seeks permission from Washington for the state to use graduation rates, attendance rates, and participation rates on the Smarter Balanced exams as measures of whether schools are meeting the adequate yearly progress (AYP) provision of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. State officials are essentially arguing that because the Smarter Balanced exam is new, AYP can't be calculated by comparing Smarter Balanced exams to student scores on prior tests.

The proposal the state school board adopted last month notes that state law prohibits Smarter Balanced scores from being compared to results from the state's previous assessment regimen, known as the STAR tests, for accountability purposes. The explanation gets complicated from there, but suffice to say that California officials agreed that without this comparison, schools won't be able to utilize "safe harbor," an alternative to meeting the targeted annual measurable objectives (student performance on state assessments) that in turn determine AYP. 

Instead, California is proposing for high schools to use graduation rates and participation rates on the administration of Smarter Balanced to 11th graders. For elementary and middle schools, AYP would be determined using attendance rates as well as Smarter Balanced participation rates. The state would report whether or not schools met annual measurable objectives, but would not use that to determine AYP.

"In 2016, safe harbor will be available for schools and LEAs to demonstrate growth from one year to the next and they will be held responsible for meeting AMO targets," the proposal states.

You may remember that California K-12 officials got into a major squabble with federal officials over testing. The state sought a testing waiver by substituting its STAR exams with Smarter Balanced field tests in English/language arts and math. Ultimately, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan agreed to let California use field tests instead of STAR, even though this decision up-ended the state's accountability system, since field tests aren't designed to produce student results for use in state accountability systems.

As my former colleague Michele McNeil noted at the time, the state was already on its way to scrapping its accountability model in any case. And in fact, on Feb. 3, the state school board recommended that the state move away from its test-score-based Annual Performance Index, which reports a single score indicating school performance, and instead adopt a system that uses multiple measures to determine performance.

Asked for comment on Feb. 4 about California's latest request for a waiver from NCLB provisions, Duncan said only that he hadn't seen the state's proposal.

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