State earns waivers for education requirements

Randy Dorn, the state superintendent of education, announced last week that Washington had been granted waivers from Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) requirements.

Washington is the 26th state to receive such waivers. ESEA is more commonly known as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The ESEA involves federal standards that have been problematic for state education systems.

The waiver is a win for school districts, according to the state superintendent's office. Before the waiver was granted, districts faced the possibility of setting aside approximately $34 million in their budgets to pay for outside service providers. With the waiver granted, that money can now be spent by districts in the way they best see fit, as long as it falls within ESEA Title I rules.

One component of the rules is Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), which is measured by student performance on standardized tests. Failure to meet AYP is one of the most onerous requirements of ESEA because of the penalties associated with not meeting standards — which can include a complete overhaul of a school's staff.

Instead, Washington will now be allowed to focus on "opportunity gaps," a term that describes the differences between scores of different groups of students.

Dorn noted that the waiver is a good first step in fixing education in the state, but still feels much needs to be done to rework ESEA to make it more manageable for educators.

"This decision is welcome news that gives our state the opportunity to implement bold reforms around standards and accountability," Dorn said. "It allows state and local educators to decide how to best meet the individual needs of students they serve. Current ESEA law is written in a way that narrowly defines 'success' based mainly on standardized test scores."

The state superintendent credits a coalition of state leaders for getting the waivers granted, chief among them Gov. Christine Gregoire and Sen. Patty Murray.

Gregoire said the waiver gives state school districts and educators greater flexibility to ensure that students are getting the necessary education to be successful in today's fast-paced world.

"This waiver provides our school districts with the necessary flexibility to improve student learning based on the students' and their community's needs," Gregoire said. "It recognizes the collaborative efforts the state undertook to reform teacher and principal evaluations."

According to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), the waiver requested was based on three principles:

• Common Core State Standards, a new set of guidelines for educational success set to be implemented in the 2013-14 school year

• Accountability System and Index, which, in Washington, measures the success of schools beyond standardized test scores and graduation rates

• Teacher/Principal Evaluation, a recently reformed system by the state to hold teachers and administrators to a higher standard than in previous years


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