Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Door remains open . . .

Sorry about the proliferation of posts on status of the federal waiver, but it is significant and continues to play out in local and national media.  The federal education departments decision in this case will have wide reaching implications for others states struggling to maintain waiver status.  This Politics K-12 post suggests that the door may not be completely closed on continuation of the waiver to NCLB and AYP requirements.  Michele McNeil points to the positive changes, success with struggling schools, and previous recognition at the federal level the state has received as possibly balancing the invitational nature of using student achievement data in teacher evaluations.

But what is a surprise is this: When it comes to the crux of what No Child Left Behind Act waivers are about—school and district accountability—Washington is faring much better than other states.

Even as most other states struggle with the lowest-performing "priority" and "focus" schools, Washington is one of the few that's "meeting expectations" in those areas. Most other NCLB waiver states have really struggled, according to their monitoring reports, to implement School Improvement Grant interventions uniformly across all priority schools. And most states have struggled with focus schools—those with the largest achievement gaps—that fail to link interventions to the reason those schools are struggling in the first place.

In fact, federal officials praise Washington for working collaboratively to raise expectations and set interventions for the lowest-performing schools. And, the state is praised for "developing a collection of instructional, research-based best practices for use by all schools in Washington." 

So, the speculation will continue while we wait for a ruling, but at least the door may be open a bit door a positive outcome.  It would be a positive step for Secretary Duncan to recognize the good work taking place  in our state and recognition that a one size fits all strategy is not always the best.  It is a difficult decision that they face as shred in this Politics K-12 post.

The challenge for the Education Department may be ensuring that Washington state doesn't get off easy—while not disrupting the strong work the state is already doing in intervening in its lowest-performing schools, a weak area of NCLB implementation for many other waiver states.
"It has to be painful enough so that other states see losing a waiver as something that they don't want to go through," said Anne Hyslop, a policy analyst with the New America Foundation. "It can't just be a perfectly consequence-free scenario, but it also needs to reflect some common sense."
Also shared in this post is the complexity of how to implement sanctions in a state that was operating under a waiver.  Will they treat it as year one of sanctions or year two?  Further complicating it is the reality that not all districts in the state will be giving state assessments this year with the transition to Smarter Balanced being piloted by many of us with no building or district feedback.

So should Washington state restart the NCLB clock, putting every school back at square one (which would mean no sanctions at all for at least a year), or should the feds pretend that Washington never got a waiver in the first place, which would mean that more schools would be subject to even more serious sanctions? Hyslop explores the question in this blog post and ultimately comes down on the side of a specially tailored waiver for ex-waiver states.
Whatever the department decides to do will affect a lot of schools, said Chad Aldeman, an associate partner at Bellwether Education Partners in Washington. Seventy-two percent of schools in Washington didn't make AYP in 2010-11, according to Education Department data, he noted. And that percentage has probably only climbed since then, he estimated.
Aldeman, who served in the Education Department under the Obama administration and worked on waivers, also noted that Washington (like most other waiver states) set less ambitious (but arguably more realistic) goals for student proficiency in its waiver. Instead of having to bring 100 percent of students to proficiency by the 2013-14 school year, as all states are required to do under NCLB, Washington just has to get 77 percent of all of its students proficient in reading.
"That is a pretty large jump, and as far as I know, that would be the biggest jump any state had to do with NCLB," Aldeman said.  

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