Arizona Spars with Feds over NCLB Waiver Requirements

December 5, 2013

The U.S. Department of Education has threatened action against Arizona’s schools unless the state can prove that it has an acceptable teacher-evaluation system that uses students’ test scores as part of the rating.

John Huppenthal, state superintendent of public instruction, said last week that Arizona already is ahead of other states in its teacher-evaluation system and that federal officials are requiring a one-size-fits-all-approach.

In a letter sent last week, federal officials told the state Department of Education that Arizona must meet certain conditions before it can pursue a waiver for next year from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, formerly known as No Child Left Behind.

No Child Left Behind was passed in 2001 to help students in Title I schools, which serve low-income students.

If Arizona loses its waiver for next year, it will be subject to the rules of No Child Left Behind. Under that system, underperforming schools face restrictive — and, some say, ineffective — rules to improve, including an emphasis on replacing staff.

To acquire a waiver, states have to meet several criteria, including adopting standards that demonstrate college and career readiness, creating a school letter-grade ranking system and developing teacher-evaluation systems that use student-achievement data. Arizona began that process in 2010 and received a waiver in 2012.

The waiver allows more flexibility in how the state spends federal money. Arizona has been able to direct its dollars toward the lowest-performing schools.

With the teacher evaluations, the state came up with a basic framework, requiring that one-third to one-half of the rating be based on student data from Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards tests.

Beyond that, districts and charters were allowed to create their own assessments, using AIMS and other data, as well.

Public schools are required to have the evaluations in place for this year, and eventually, teachers’ performance pay will be tied to their scores.

The U.S. Department of Education wants a more uniform approach, based on annual assessments that measure how much students improve in their scores.

But Huppenthal said many districts have evaluations far superior to the type federal officials are requiring.

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