Amendments to accountability plans may be an option to NCLB waivers

States may not have to wait for federal waivers to get relief from stringent No Child Left Behind accountability requirements according to a noted public education advocacy group.

The Center on Education Policy, a D.C.-based education advocacy group, recently released analysis of federal law as it relates to a state's ability to amend its accountability program.

President Barak Obama proposed Friday a waiver process that, among other things, would largely eliminate the looming 2014 deadline under NCLB for states to have 100 percent of students proficient in math and reading in exchange for adopting college and career readiness standards, rigorous intervention for low-performing schools and new teacher and principal evaluation systems.

Congressional leaders, who've already voiced objections to the waiver program, may seek to block implementation and could delay states receiving the benefits of the waivers.

In the meantime, the CEP reports, states might seek relief in the form of amendments to their accountability plans and annual measureable objectives - key elements of Adequate Yearly Progress measurements under NCLB.

To make AYP, schools and districts must not only meet the AMOs for all students, but also for each of several designated subgroups of students, including major racial/ethnic groups, low-income students, students with disabilities, and English language learners.

Accountability plans include benchmarks for graduation rates in high schools and an additional academic indicator, such as attendance rates, in elementary and middle schools.

The CEP notes that although the amendments are limited to marginal or technical provisions and may not cover the spectrum of flexibility provided by the proposed waivers, they may still provide states with enough flexibility to meet NCLB accountability requirements.

State accountability plans must incorporate a variety of elements including:

  • A description of the state assessment system, including the tests used to measure achievement for NCLB purposes

  • Definitions of achievement levels on state tests, including, at a minimum, definitions of basic, proficient, and advanced levels of achievement

  • Policies for assessing the achievement of students with disabilities and English language learners

  • Provisions for reporting assessment and AYP results

  • Provisions for protecting student privacy

States may submit proposed changes to their plans to ED for approval at any time.

It is important to note that these requests are not waivers and the requirements for secretarial waivers do not apply to them, the CEP said.

Changes to accountability plans are typically initiated by states, and may occur in response to a variety of factors including response to new regulations or policy guidance from the U.S. Department of Education, or to issues raised by ED staff during monitoring visits.

According to the most recent Council of Chief State School Officers report, the most frequent types of accountability plan amendments requested in 2009 and 2010 propose modifications or clarifications in the following areas:

  • Methods for calculating AYP

  • Policies for assessing and determining AYP for students with disabilities, including the use of modified" academic achievement standards

  • Methods for calculating graduation rates

  • AMOs

  • Policies for determining AYP for English language learners

  • Timelines for delivering AYP information to schools and districts

"Over the years," the CEP notes, "many of the changes proposed by states and accepted by ED, including some of the changes listed above, have had the effect of making it easier for schools and districts to demonstrate AYP."

According to the CEP, AMO-related changes to state plans have often focused on the following issues:

  • Switching from relatively large increases in AMOs every three years to smaller annual increases

  • Revising the trajectory toward 100 percent proficiency to reflect the introduction of tests in additional grades

  • Recalibrating AMOs when the state has changed its assessments or standards for proficiency

  • And, more recently, extending the deadline for the 100 percent proficiency goal to a later year than 2013-14

According to the CCSSO report, ED approved a majority of these requests, although no changes in the 2013-14 deadline for 100 percent proficiency have yet been approved.

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