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Do The 'Waive': What You Need To Know About Indiana's NCLB Waiver

Background

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

State superintendent Tony Bennett presides over an Indiana State Board of Education meeting in December.

In November, Indiana education officials filed an application for a waiver from key goals of the No Child Left Behind act. In February, federal officials approved that request — according to press reports.

You can read the request in full at the bottom of this page. But what does this all mean?

    • No Child Left Behind’s yearly progress goals are no more in Indiana. NCLB mandated that all schools meet yearly progress goals in their test scores. But with the federal government’s waiver, Indiana schools no longer will required to meet these goals. Instead, state officials are setting what they call an “ambitious and achievable” goal of their own: Every Indiana school must earn a state letter grade of an A — or failing that, improve two letter grades to earn no worse than a C — by 2020. In short, while schools will still  Indiana’s letter grading system is now the accountability law of the land.

Screenshot / IDOE

A chart from p. 50 of Indiana's application for an NCLB waiver spelling out the state's projections for school letter grade distribution by 2020. ("AMO," by the way, stands for "Annual Measurable Objectives.")

  • Indiana has approved regulatory changes to prepare for the change. As part of the plan, the State Board adopted new metrics for determining Indiana’s school letter grades. The essence of the new grading system was spelled out in the waiver application. The document reads both like a primer on Indiana’s efforts to overhaul education in recent years, and like a game plan for big changes to the state’s education policy that are still to come — including a more aggressive timeline for state intervention in failing schools.
  • In the absence of NCLB’s progress goals, Indiana’s letter grades are now the only accountability measure that matters. Under No Child Left Behind, all Indiana schools were required to make “adequate yearly progress,” or “AYP,” towards an ultimate goal of 100 percent of their students being proficient on math and reading exams by the year 2014. Indiana education officials feel their “growth model” — which assigns schools letter grades based not only on pure statewide test passage rates but on the number of students improving their exam performance — is a better way to hold schools accountable.
  • The waivers provide relief from ‘No Child’ goals now widely viewed as unattainable. Many now believe NCLB’s goals of 100 percent proficiency in math and reading by 2014 are unattainable — and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says more than 82 percent of the nation’s schools would have been penalized for failing to make progress towards those goals this year. Though Indiana education officials had wished the U.S. Congress would approve changes to provide relief, the Obama administration has decided to act unilaterally to do so — in a move that some have argued breeches executive power.
  • The waiver plan is not without its critics. See: our post about how civil rights groups fear the waivers undo No Child Left Behind’s signature achievement: focusing national attention on achievement gaps.
  • The letter grading system that replaces NCLB/AYP is not without its critics. See: our post on the concerns critics voiced at a state hearing on the letter grade system, reworked to replace ‘No Child.’

Here’s the application Indiana sent to the feds in November. (Read the U.S. Department of Education’s response here.)

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