Wyoming Department of Education seeks waiver of federal progress requirements

2012-07-04T23:45:00Z Wyoming Department of Education seeks waiver of federal progress requirementsBy ELYSIA CONNER Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
July 04, 2012 11:45 pm  • 

The Wyoming Department of Education has asked its federal counterpart to freeze language arts and math standards established by the No Child Left Behind education law at 2011 levels rather than allow them to increase to 2012 levels for the state.

State officials are seeking the waiver from the U.S. Department of Education in order to focus on a statewide system of educational accountability mandated by state statute.

To allay unintended consequences of the No Child Left Behind Act -- formally known as Elementary and Secondary Education Act -- the federal department offers a flexibility waiver to acknowledge the innovations and efforts that have come about since No Child Left Behind went into effect a decade ago. An unintended consequence of the law is that it could potentially hinder state and local efforts aimed at increasing the quality of instruction and improving student academic achievement, according to a document on the federal DOE website.

The flexibility waiver the federal department offers includes relief from some of the consequences of not achieving annual yearly progress. The waiver also frees states from following procedures for setting their annual measurable objectives that determine AYP and instead allows them to develop new "ambitious yet achievable" standards in language arts and math.

The U.S. Department of Education uses the annual measurable objectives to hold schools, districts, and states accountable for student performance under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Annual measurable objectives are measured here by the Proficiency Assessments for Wyoming Students test, or PAWS.

But the offered waiver also requires implementing additional federal requirements, such as linking student performance to teacher evaluation.

So Wyoming asked for a waiver similar to a joint request Maine and New Hampshire made in February, Cindy Hill, Wyoming's Superintendent of Public Instruction, said in a Wyoming Education Department press release.

"The timelines and requirements of the current federal accountability system and the flexibility offered by the U.S. Department of Education will not work in Wyoming," Hill wrote in a letter to the department.

According to John Masters, who leads the state department's effort for a statewide accountability system, the department waited to hear back from the state Legislature after its session last spring before deciding how to proceed with balancing the state and federal accountability requirements. Then, the department studied and discussed how other areas are doing with various options, according to Masters. The Wyoming Education Department applied for its own waiver in June.

Wyoming was one of 11 states initially to not apply for the first round of applications for waivers for the 2011 school year testing period under No Child Left Behind. So far, about two dozen states have been approved for the flexibility waiver after applying by the second-round deadline in February, and several more await word from the U.S. Department of Education.

In the 2013-14 school year, the Wyoming Education Department plans to start implementing the Wyoming Accountability in Education Act the state Legislature approved in the spring.

"The waiver is to help take the pressure off of trying to meet those standards and manage that particular piece of No Child Left Behind while we're trying to adopt these other accountability standards," said Jerry Zellars, public information officer for the Wyoming Education Department.

According to Zellars, the Wyoming Accountability in Education Act requires an intense statewide effort from schools and the Wyoming Education Department. The state also recently approved the national Common Core State Standards.

Masters said the flexibility waiver requirements are admirable, but Wyoming currently could not guarantee it could meet the requirement of tying student performance to teacher evaluation. The second stage of the Wyoming Accountability Act seeks to create a system to do so, but it has not yet been developed, Masters said.

"While efforts are ongoing to link student performance to teacher evaluation, it has not been successfully demonstrated elsewhere nor can I promise when it could be in Wyoming," Hill said in the release.

If the federal Education Department grants the freeze, Wyoming will continue to apply for the waiver annually until the state fully implements its developing education efforts or until "reauthorization of EASA describes a new process," Hill wrote.

Congress has begun the process of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, according to the Education Department website.

The No Child Left Behind Act requires that standard increase until 100 percent of U.S. students demonstrates proficiency in language arts and math by 2014. In accordance with the act, Wyoming set its expectations for math and language standards to increase incrementally.

According to Zellars, 71 percent of schools met AYP last year. Results from this spring's PAWS tests will be available and made public in July or possibly August, according to state Education Department officials.

The Wyoming Department of Education also applied for a waiver to the No Child Left Behind Act in 2010 after technology problems plagued the PAWS testing process.

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