Wyoming is holding off a year in its request for a waiver that allows the state relief from the federal No Child Left Behind Act in exchange for state educational reform efforts, because the state isn’t ready to meet the waiver’s required timeline.
To provide some relief from the federal act’s requirements in the meantime, the Wyoming Department of Education on Monday instead requested a different waiver to freeze benchmarks for student progress at 2012 levels for a year.
Under No Child Left Behind, schools are required to meet ever-rising benchmarks toward all students testing proficient in math and language by 2014.
“The purpose is to provide some relief for the schools so they don’t have to put so much time and energy and focus into things that may not be as beneficial just to worry about the escalating AYP (adequate yearly progress) targets,” said David Holbrook, federal programs division administrator at the Wyoming Department of Education.
Without the “freeze” waiver, more Wyoming schools likely would fail to meet progress targets toward the benchmarks. Schools and districts that don’t make the targets for multiple years face consequences such as restrictions for using funds, extra reports due to the U.S. Department of Education and being required to allow parents the choice of a different school for their students, Holbrook said.
The state Department of Education in February applied for the federal flexibility waiver that allows states to exchange some federal requirements for their own plans. One major reason state officials listed for seeking the waiver was to streamline state and federal requirements into one system. The education accountability system the state is developing through the 2011 Wyoming Accountability in Education Act lines up well with requirements for the federal waivers, officials had said.
Currently, 39 states have a “flexibility waiver,” and five others besides Wyoming have requested one, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
The major sticking point in negotiations for the flexibility waiver with the U.S. Department of Education is the state’s timeline for a system to hold teachers and educational leaders accountable for student learning, according to Holbrook. U.S. Department of Education representatives didn’t respond to requests for comment Monday.
The flexibility waiver requires the state to ready its guidelines for teacher and leader evaluations by the end of the 2012-13 school year. Wyoming won’t have those guidelines ready for at least another year as scheduled in the 2011 Wyoming Accountability in Education Act.
Trying to make the federal timeline requirement this year could compromise the quality of the accountability system Wyoming is developing, Holbrook said
Wyoming will seek a flexibility waiver for the 2014-15 school year.
“I continue to believe that the Wyoming’s system is superior to the federal system,” according to a statement from the office of Gov. Matt Mead Monday. “I will continue to work to replace federal provisions with Wyoming accountability provisions, and the WDE’s requested extension is a step in that process.”
The federal law was scheduled for revision years ago and is no longer a helpful way to evaluate school performance, said the statement.
Mark Stock, superintendent of Laramie County School District 1, said he supports the freeze waiver and the state Department of Education’s work toward a flexibility waiver.
The freeze of student targets will prevent more schools in his district from facing consequences such as offering school of choice to parents. As the 2014 requirement for 100 percent proficiency nears, those choices become more limited, especially because his district has some school overcrowding issues, he said.
Stock also hopes the state eventually will receive a flexibility waiver, because it would allow more focus on Wyoming’s accountability system and streamline state and federal educational accountability requirements. That would free up educators to focus more on what works to boost student learning, he said.
“As school districts, it’s confusing sometimes to work under so many different sets of rules,” Stock said. “It would be nice if these two things were merged, and if all the districts had to worry about was the Wyoming accountability plan.”