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Department Makes ESEA Waiver Policy Change


August 26, 2014


Department Makes ESEA Waiver Policy Change

As the school year begins around the country, teachers, administrators and parents have raised many questions about the status of Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) flexibility waivers. In response to some of these stakeholders' concerns, the U.S. Department of Education has announced a shift in its waiver policy.

Initially announced in September 2011, the waivers were designed to release states from some of ESEA's key provisions, such as Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in the face of congressional gridlock on reauthorization. The original waivers were issued in exchange for state-developed plans approved by the Department of Education, and were designed to improve educational outcomes for all students, close the achievement gap and to focus aid on the neediest students. To date, 43 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have had waivers approved. Two additional states and the Bureau of Indian Education have submitted waivers for approval.

Since the waivers were first granted, the department has made several additional waivers available to states to modify their original agreements (effectively, waivers to the waiver). However, last week's announcement was perhaps the most significant acknowledgement of the difficulties in implementing changes to teacher and principle evaluations.

States will now have the opportunity to apply to extend the deadline for when student assessment scores must be taken into account on teacher and principle evaluations from the 2014-15 until the 2015-16 school year. States may also use this opportunity to make other changes to their evaluation system if needed; however, all changes must be approved the department.

While the flexibility waivers were originally intended as a stop-gap measure to prevent states from running up against the AYP deadline until ESEA was reauthorized, it seems as though they will be around for a while longer. Thirty-five of the 45 waivers expired this summer, and 32 of those have submitted extensions for this school year. Twenty states have been renewed thus far, including Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Update: On August 28, the Administration denied Oklahoma's request for a renewal of its waiver. In a letter to state school officials, the department indicated that Oklahoma could "no longer demonstrate that it has college-and career-ready standards in place." On the same day, the department also announced that Indiana and Kansas will both be granted one-year waiver extensions.

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