For the first time since the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act was adopted over ten years ago, the U.S. Department of Education is offering DC and states a chance to be relieved of some onerous provisions related to school improvement under the 2001 law. In particular, DC and the states can request flexibility from the NCLB requirement that 100 percent of students achieve math and reading proficiency by 2014, as long as they develop a new plan to improve student outcomes and close achievement gaps.
The District is taking advantage of this invitation. The Office of the State Superintendent of Education has drafted an “ESEA flexibility waiver,” including a new plan to track student achievement and to direct federal funds to struggling schools. Without the waiver, OSSE predicts that over 200 of the 218 schools in the District ‘ including DCPS and public charter schools ‘ will not meet their “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) targets next year.
Instead of the one-size-fits-all accountability measures associated with NCLB, DC’s new plan would establish measures to recognize when schools are showing academic growth, even if this is not reflected in overall proficiency rates. For example, a ninth grade teacher who brings a student from a fourth grade level to a seventh grade level would get no credit under the current NCLB system of measuring AYP. But the teacher and school would get credit for this progress under OSSE’s waiver plan.
The District is also proposing more efficient ways to identify schools in need of assistance and target federal resources to those schools. Under the proposal, all DCPS and public charter schools would be put into one of five categories: Reward (schools with highest proficiency and growth), Good Standing, Continuous Improvement, Focus, and Priority (schools with greatest need for intervention. Additionally, federal resources would be more narrowly targeted, to the lowest-performing 15 percent of schools, with a particular emphasis on the lowest 5 percent (Priority Schools). If three years of intensive intervention does not move a school out of the “Priority” level, OSSE could suggest that the school be closed. The specifics of the support system and school improvement process are still being determined.
OSSE has held a series of focus groups with local education stakeholders to engage the public in developing this new plan, and District residents still have an opportunity to offer feedback on the Flexibility Waiver Request until February 14th. DCFPI hopes you will take the time to review the application and contribute to the conversation on how student outcomes are measured and tied to federal resources in District schools.