The Wyoming Department of Education plans to file for a federal No Child Left Behind Act waiver Thursday in the hope of avoiding consequences in 2014 for failing to meet standards, said director Jim Rose.
Waivers let states exchange specific federal requirements for rigorous state-developed plans designed to improve results, close achievement gaps and improve the quality of instruction, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Thirty-four states currently have flexibility waivers. States risk losing federal funds for not meeting NCLB requirements, which include all students becoming at least proficient on state assessments by 2014 and making what is called adequate yearly progress toward that goal.
Currently, 40 percent of schools in the state fall short of federal standards set by No Child Left Behind.
Gov. Matt Mead last week explored the possibility of a waiver with national education officials at the National Governors Association meeting in Washington, D.C., according to Mary Kay Hill, the governor’s deputy policy director and education policy adviser. The waiver request initiates a conversation with the federal department, Hill said.
Rose said the Legislature has provided direction and guidance in creating a state accountability system that will align with federal requirements.
“We don’t have to start this from zero. We are already in the process of creating a kind of model that will help us to be responsive both to the federal and state mandates,” Rose said.
The Wyoming Education Accountability system, crafted through a panel comprised of Wyoming educators and members of the Legislature, addresses student achievement, growth, equity and career and college readiness, Hill said.
“Those items match up well with what the U.S. Department of Education is offering in terms of waivers,” she added. “Given that match, we are eager to see what might be available in terms of relief to Wyoming school districts.”
The Natrona County School District’s Frontier Middle School is an example of a school that receives federal funds and faces consequences for not achieving No Child Left Behind mandates.
While Frontier has improved on state assessments in the past few years and therefore improved its adequate yearly progress scores, it didn't match the federally mandated standards, which increase every year. It missed meeting federal standards for the fifth consecutive year. It’s now required to create a restructuring plan. If Frontier misses the adequate yearly progress this year, the plan must take effect.
District officials on Monday approved a federally mandated restructuring plan now on its way to the Wyoming Department of Education for approval.
Under No Child Left Behind Act requirements, district officials chose the plan that calls for replacing staff members who contributed to the school not making federal benchmarks. However, turnover in recent years has led to significant staff change since 2009. District officials are hopeful the federal Department of Education will not require further staff restructuring.
“So the feds made us do it, huh?” NCSD trustee Audrey Cotherman asked Monday at the regular school board meeting.
“Only if you want Title I money,” Superintendent Joel Dvorak replied.
Title I funds are aimed at districts and schools with high numbers or high percentages of students from low-income families.
Like Frontier Middle School, states must submit plans outlining efforts to accomplish the federal goals. Rose described a thick notebook of procedures and reporting requirements the state must follow in the waiver application process.
Rose added accountability efforts can’t happen in isolation.
“It’s got to be coordinated at the various levels,” Rose said, “from the federal on down to the local school districts.”
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill on Wednesday said she had not been informed of the waiver application and found it “shocking” not to have been part of the conversation. She said she wasn’t informed enough to comment much, but said that in general, there are always strings attached with any waiver, and that they should be considered before making a decision.
Earlier this month, Mead signed legislation stripping Cindy Hill of many of her duties and creating a director of the Department of Education. Mead appointed Rose, the director of the Wyoming Community College Commission, as interim director of the Education Department.