Category Archives: race to the top/nclb waiver

Field Test Flexibility Waiver

The Iowa Department of Education website has been curiously silent about the approval of Iowa’s field test flexibility waiver.

The Iowa Flexibility Waiver Determination Letter from the US Department of Education is available here.

The waiver request was not approved in its entirety.

It seems that Iowa’s waiver request was complicated by state law requiring that all schools administer the Iowa Assessments at grades 4, 8, and 11, so the double-testing waiver only applies to students in grades 3, 5, 6, and 7. Parents will not receive reports on student performance on field tests.

The waiver is approved on the condition that the DE will implement eight assurances, including ensuring notification of parents whose children attend schools that will be participating in the field tests and that “pending action by the Iowa legislature,” the DE will administer the new assessments to all students in the grades required to be tested during the 2014-15 school year.

The waiver request apparently included a list of Iowa schools choosing to participate in the field test, but I cannot find that list online.


Iowa (Finally) Wins a Waiver

Education Week reports that the US Department of Education approved Iowa’s double testing waiver request on Friday.  For more details, see the DE website here.

Iowa schools participating in Smarter Balanced Assessment field tests this spring will not be required to also administer the Iowa Assessments. This decision obviously comes too late to be of use to Iowa districts using fall or midyear test dates for the Iowa Assessments.

The Education Week article is unclear on this point, but presumably Iowa’s determination waiver request was also granted, as Iowa schools choosing not to double test would have no test data to submit for AYP purposes.

I’ll update with a link to the Iowa DE website when they get information posted.

A Few Links

Too many tabs open, too little time to blog:

Education Week reports that Arne Duncan is almost out of carrots.

Also from Education Week, life is good right now for the assessment industry:

For testing companies, that means there’s money to be made at the state level, and in local districts. Whether this results in tests that lead to improved classroom instruction or academic gains remains to be seen.

One more from Education Week: Next Generation Science Standards (currently being considered for adoption in Iowa) may be even more challenging to assess than the common core.

The first Iowa Student Learning Institute was held this past Saturday, and by all (Twitter) accounts I saw, it was a great success (#isli on Twitter if you missed it). By the way, it looks to me like their list of what students would have if they could have what they wanted could be shortened to one word, Montessori.

William Pannapacker in The Chronicle of Higher Education on Screening Out the Introverts.

Finally, over at Apt. 11D they have been discussing Lisa Miller’s article on ethical parenting in New York Magazine. I honestly don’t have a sense of how much this sort of thing is actually–or perceived–to be going on locally, but I do think the discussion was interesting.

From Laura in the comments:

Perhaps the problem isn’t that rich people hire tutors. Perhaps the problem is that poor people can’t. Perhaps the problem is that people need to hire tutors, and that schools aren’t teaching all kids equally.

If that is the case, how much can the diversity policy on its own really help?

PBIS in Iowa

Now that the election is over and the votes are counted, discussion on a local Facebook group has turned to PBIS.

Education Week posted an article a few weeks ago that, in part, detailed some of the federal involvement in pushing adoption of PBIS:

PBIS also has been written into other department initiatives as an encouraged practice, including Race to the Top, the federal competitive-grant program aimed at promoting education redesign in the states. Schools and districts are allowed to use Title I and IDEA funding to pay for positive behavioral support strategies. The Obama administration’s proposed budget also sets aside $50 million to help 8,000 schools create more nurturing school climates, in part through the use of positive behavioral support strategies.

In other words, they are offering rewards for schools that exhibit the desired behavior of adopting PBIS, and no doubt the offer of rewards works.  Iowa’s ESEA Flexibility Request (aka NCLB waiver application) included a plan for statewide implementation of PBIS.

The US Department of Education’s application for continued funding of federal PBIS activities is worth a quick read.  The school-wide implementation of PBIS is apparently an expansion of earlier efforts to focus programs on students most in need of assistance in complying with socially acceptable behavior and school rules.

The USDE claims that “[e]ffective implementation of PBIS frameworks has resulted in decreases in student discipline referrals, suspensions, and expulsions; increased safety and school satisfaction among staff, students, and parents; improved school climate; and increased instructional time.” (citations omitted)  Based on the Facebook discussion and Chris Liebig’s extensive blogging on the subject of PBIS, that has not been the universal experience of PBIS implementation locally.

Whether it is a failure of fidelity in implementation or an inherent flaw in the concept, I’ll leave as an exercise for the reader.  However, I was interested to find an article by Dan Willingham on the more general subject of the use of rewards in schools and classrooms.  Willingham notes that while rewards can be effective, they should be used according to three important guidelines:

  • Don’t use rewards unless you have to,
  • Use rewards for a specific reason, and
  • Use rewards for a limited time.

I think PBIS, as reportedly practiced locally, pretty clearly violates those guidelines.


Uncle Sam, May I?

There has been some talk in the current school board race that getting an NCLB waiver to end SINA transfers would be great for the district.

Despite being called ESEA Flexibility Waivers, there isn’t really all that much flexibility–just a different way to be locked into a high-stakes testing/school ranking/accountability scheme.

I’ve previously outlined the provisions of Iowa’s ESEA Flexibility Waiver request and I still think it is too high of a price to pay to avoid SINA transfers.  (When all schools are SINA schools, won’t that change how the whole SINA transfer thing works anyway?  Which schools could be designated as receiving schools?)

So, go check it out and see what is in the request.  Because, from the looks of these EdWeek articles, we would be locked into the details of the waiver plan if we “won” a waiver under threat of having our waiver revoked or having to go back to the USDE to ask permission to make changes.

EdWeek reports that federal approval is only required for major but not technical changes, but how would you know whether a change would be considered major or technical?  Apparently waiver states are expected to consult the USDE on all proposed changes and let them decide.

Now consider that the USDE just offered one-year waivers to a group of California public school districts, bypassing the state DE altogether.  A cynical person might think that looks like an awfully attractive opportunity for the USDE to keep moving the goalposts; all without Congress–or the Iowa Legislature–taking a vote.

Would that really be better for the district?

Current Prospects for an NCLB Waiver

Search terms indicate that there is interest in whether Iowa is likely to receive an NCLB waiver this year.  The short answer is that it is too soon to tell.  If the Senate passes SF 423 rather than HF 215, we won’t know until the bill comes out of conference committee whether the Iowa Legislature will approve the changes required to obtain the waiver.

Education Week reported last summer that Iowa’s waiver application was “denied after the federal Education Department decided that the state’s education agency did not have the authority to enforce the requirement that teachers and principals be evaluated in part on student outcomes, a key component of the department’s conditional waivers.”

Section 62 of HF 215 would amend Iowa Code Section 284.3(2)(b) teacher evaluations to contain “a balanced use of student outcome measures, comprised of objective, reliable measures of student growth, classroom observation, and student surveys.”  SF 423 does not include this language, nor does it include the performance index/school classification ranking system that is a key component of Iowa’s ESEA Flexibility Request.

Cure Worse Than The Disease?

There has been quite a bit of talk lately about the need for a waiver from NCLB requirements.  So, inspired by this comparison of NCLB versus the Connecticut waiver request (HT @daskmartin), I thought I would write a quick overview of Iowa’s waiver request.

College- and Career-Ready Expectations for All Students

  • Adoption of the Common Core Standards
  • Statewide implementation of Response to Intervention and PBIS
  • Implementation of Smarter Balanced Assessments by 2014
  • “Model” curriculum by July 2013
  • Art, music, and world languages standards
  • End-of-course of assessments aligned with the Iowa Core by 2014
  • Required college entrance exam by 2014
  • Optional career readiness assessment by 2014
  • Switch to InTASC teaching standards
  • Teacher career pathways

State-Developed Differentiated Recognition, Accountability, and Support

Performance goals:

  • 100% of school buildings will have at least 80% of students proficient in math and reading.
  • 100% of students will make at least a year’s growth in a year’s time

Current Annual Measurable Objectives:

  • Make or miss AYP (based on reading scores, math scores, participation in accountability testing plus graduation and attendance rates).
  • Subgroups must include at least 30 students (at the school level?).
  • All schools are expected to meet the same targets.

Waiver Proposed Annual Measurable Objectives (AMO):

  • The DE will calculate AMO trajectories for each school and each eligible subgroup in each school that will depend upon current distance from the statewide performance goals, such that all schools will meet statewide achievement score target of 85 at the end of ten years.  [Note page 57: only 25 of over 1300 schools currently have an achievement score at 85 or higher.]
  • Eligible subgroups must include at least 10 students at the district or school level (more subgroups will have reportable results than under the NCLB 30 student rule).

All schools will be classified under a new classification system (and all schools and districts, regardless of classification, would be required to complete Continuous School Improvement Plans):

  • Distinguished (Exceptional for three or more consecutive years)
  • Exceptional
  • High Performing
  • Commendable
  • Acceptable
  • Needs Improvement (Focus)
  • Priority
  • Unacceptable (Focus or Priority for three consecutive years)

Schools will be classified according to a Performance Index Score (0 to 100 points possible), a Closing Gap Score (percentage of subgroups meeting AMOs), participation in accountability testing of at least 95% for all students and each subgroup (n=20), and a graduation rate of at least 60% for all students and each subgroup (n=10).  [See page 51 for a chart showing numbers required to fall into each classification category.]

The Performance Index is made up of two parts, an achievement score based on reading and mathematics assessments (with equal weighting for proficiency and growth for all students) worth up to 80 points and Other Academic Indicators (OAI) worth up to 20 points.

OAIs by type of school (see pages 60-62 for charts showing how points will be awarded in each category):

  • High School: graduation rate (10 points), college ready rates (5 points), attendance rates (5 points).  [Note college ready is calculated from Iowa Assessment scores at each level that track to earning a college ready score on the ACT.]
  • Middle/Junior High School: college ready rates (10 points) and attendance rates (10 points).
  • Elementary Schools: attendance rates (10 points) and 3rd grade reading proficiency rates (10 points).

The DE proposes to add more measures to this accountability system in the future including, Smarter Balanced Assessments, end-of-course exams, college entrance exams, post-graduation data, career readiness exam, safe and supportive schools indicators (suspension and expulsion rates, parent satisfaction, levels of students engagement, staff working conditions), and Response to Intervention measures.

Reward schools (Exceptional/Distinguished): will get state recognition (including special logos), will have to write CSIPs but will have some autonomy in identifying areas for improvement, and can apply to become Studio Schools to mentor other schools.

The DE plans to seek administrative law changes to apply interventions and sanctions to non-Title I schools in addition to the Title I schools affected by NCLB.  Interventions and sanctions for Focus/Priority/Unacceptable schools may include: parent notification, charter options, a state review panel, and set aside of 20% of Title I funds for implementing turnaround principles, extended learning opportunities (tutoring or summer school), and professional development.

Supports for all schools in the state include implementing Response to Intervention, PBIS, and anti-bullying programs; and implementing the Iowa Core and universal constructs.

And, a quote from page 105, just because it made me laugh: “Since Iowa is a local control state, the selection of professional development providers is a local district decision.”  Is this what school board elections are all about–choice of professional development providers?

Supporting Effective Instruction and Leadership

This section includes the teacher/administrator evaluation changes, including requiring the use of “student outcome measures” as part of the evaluations.  The DE plans to develop measures of student achievement for “untested subjects” for use in evaluating teachers of those subject areas.

Note that in an article about Senator Harkin’s decision not to run for re-election, Education Week notes that Harkin’s ESEA reauthorization bill would not require student achievement to be used as part of evaluating teachers.

Is the cure worse than the disease?  I think so for several reasons.  First, it incorporates accountability by high stakes testing into state law–if the ESEA reauthorization substantially changes the worst parts of NCLB, we’ll still be stuck with it until state law is also amended/repealed–not necessarily an easy thing.  Second, it seeks to apply NCLB accountability interventions and sanctions to all schools in the state, not just the ones receiving Title I funds (except required SINA transfers, which may be the only thing a successful waiver application actually rids us of) which is a pretty high price to pay for accepting roughly ninety million dollars of Title I funds per year.  Third, tying student test scores to teacher evaluations is controversial and is not required by either NCLB or Harkin’s ESEA reauthorization bill.  Finally, because I still believe that the route to better schools is political accountability at the local level (ie. local control) rather than top down, high-stakes-testing-driven accountability.

If we are desperate enough to pass bad law this session to escape NCLB requirements, let’s just refuse the ninety million dollars instead–surely we can find state money this year to replace those funds.  Otherwise, why not wait and see what relief ESEA reauthorization might bring?