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In Response to Federal Feedback, N.J. Seeks Testing Waiver From ESSA

New Jersey has asked U.S. Secretary Betsy DeVos for a waiver from the way the Every Student Succeeds Act requires states to test its middle school students, joining Florida and Kentucky in their intention to ask for waivers under the new federal K-12 law.  

The Garden State wants to test its middle school students in the mathematics course in which they are enrolled, rather than with the state tests created for each student's grade. This allows, for example, a state to recognize 7th grade students' actual algebra scores rather than the state's 7th grade standardized math exam. The state, which has been wracked by a cantankerous opt-out movement, said in its waiver request, that it wants to encourage students to take advanced courses and avoid double testing students who chose to do so.  

New Jersey posted its waiver request on its website July 25, weeks after receiving feedback on its plan from the federal government. It has given the public until Aug. 11 to give the department comments on the request.  

Its request  is significantly less expansive than the request Florida is preparing. Florida plans to ask, among other things, that it not be required to judge schools based on how well English-learners perform on language proficiency exams or how wide achievement gaps are between poor, black, Latino, and other students and their white peers. Civil rights advocates in Florida state have fiercly fought the waiver request, arguing that the request violates the spirit of the civil rights legacy of the law. 

Similar to New Jersey, Florida is also asking for a waiver from the way it grades its middle school students.  

Kentucky officials, meanwhile, have notified the public they will seek a waiver from the cap on the students the state gives high school alternative assessments to.

In order to receive a waiver, a state must prove that what it instead proposes to do is as effective or more effective than what's required to do under the law.  The waiver request must also be posted for public comment. 

New Jersey officials said in its request that it received a similar waiver regarding the way it tests its middle school students under the No Child Left Behind Act, which preceded ESSA. 

"Parents and educators should continue to have the option to determine whether a middle school student should be enrolled in an advanced-mathematics course, and the [New Jersey education department's] testing policies should support and be aligned to that local decision," the state said in its letter to DeVos. 

It's not clear yet how Secretary DeVos will handle waiver requests from the law.  

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