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With Waiver Denial, Utah Mulls Second Accountability System

Utah's state board of education will consider splitting the state's accountability system from its federal accountability system after U.S. Secretary Betsy DeVos rejected a proposed compromise with the state over how to handle schools with high rates of students who opt out of the state test. 

Last week, the federal Education Department accepted the state's Every Student Succeeds Act application, but previously had rejected a waiver from a portion of the law that requires the state to punish schools where fewer than 95 percent of students take the state exam.  

"If opt-out continues to increase, it makes it much more difficult to have our federal and our state accountability systems allign," Tiffany Stanley, the state department's chief of staff, said to the Salt Lake Tribune.

If Utah's board ultimately decides to seperate the state accountability system from the federal accountability system, Utah would become the fourth state to create a second accountability system after the state and the feds couldn't agree on key provisions. 

One of the hallmarks of ESSA was that states would be given flexibility to align their state accountability systems with the federal accountability system.  

But it appears that Colorado, Florida, and Indiana will have two accountability systems this fall after their departments also failed to get their state laws to comply with the federal law.  

Having two accountability systems can create a bureaucratic nightmare for state departments and districts and send conflicting messages to parents about the performance of their children's schools.  

Utah has one of the nation's highest testing opt-out rates (more than 5 percent of the state's students opted out of the state exam last year) and its state law prohibits the state department for punishing districts and schools for having high populations of students that don't take the state exam.   

In an e-mail to Education Week, Utah State Board of Education spokeswoman Emilie Wheeler said the state's board is trying its hardest to avoid creating two seperate accountability systems. 

"We would very much prefer to not have to go 'the Colorado route' and institute two accountability systems," Wheeler said. "Utah has done this before, and it's messy."

The state under No Child Left Behind also had two seperate accountability systems, at one point issuing districts three seperate report cards.  


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