At Odds, Feds Grant Texas Short-Term ‘No Child Left Behind’ Waiver

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced Tuesday that the U.S. Education Department (USED) finally renewed the state’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver on a short-term 2015-16 basis.

This band-aid for 1,200 public schools and charters follows much back and forth, and even concern that the waiver was not going to be renewed at all. The feds remain at odds with Texas over its principal and teacher evaluation process.

The USED threatened that if Texas does not meet specific federal conditions, they will place the state on “high risk status” beyond the current school year. Although Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams welcomed the temporary waiver renewal, he said that the state will not change its position on allowing school districts to make decisions on using evaluation systems of their own choosing.

“Throughout the waiver application process, I have made it clear to federal officials that I do not have nor will I ever seek the authority to compel local school districts to use one uniform teacher and principal evaluation system statewide,” said Williams in a TEA news release.

The USED wants Texas to use a very specific teacher and principal evaluation and support system that meet federal requirements and they want it implemented statewide in 2016-17. Williams maintains that local independent school districts must make those decisions.

“Statewide rollout of our new state-approved appraisal system would occur in 2016-2017, but would not be mandatory,” he said. “I believe a majority of our school districts representing roughly 85 percent of the state’s student population would make use of these new appraisal systems. However, that choice will be made at the local level, not by the federal government.”

Earlier this year, Breitbart Texas reported that the feds initially rejected the Texas NCLB waiver, prompting Williams to resubmit the state’s request. At issue, the federal government did not feel new Texas Teachers Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS) went far enough for them to reissue a waiver. Education Secretary Arne Duncan prefers the Education Value-Added Assessment System (EVAAS) to measure growth in student learning based on standardized testing and linking teacher evaluations to student performance. Both versions contain the prized principal and teacher evaluative value-added measure (VAM) but are not identical. Houston ISD, the only school district in the state to actively pursue and secure a $30 million federal Race to the Top grant, uses EVAAS.

During the 2014-2015 school year, TEA piloted T-TESS in 64 school districts and 430 campuses across the state. This year, 256 districts and approximately 2,000 campuses statewide implemented the program, according to the agency.

“Our state believes strongly in local control of our schools. As a result, we will continue discussing this specific point with the U.S. Department of Education, but they should not expect any shift in Texas’ position,” Williams noted in the release.

Federal education officials gave the state until Jan. 15, 2016, to meet their conditions but this could become a moot point if Congress revamps NCLB by that time. Williams indicated that the Texas will request reconsideration of its high-risk status. The USED gave TEA until Oct. 9 to do so. Currently, Texas and South Dakota are the only states in the current round of renewals granted a federal waiver with a high-risk designation.

Williams first secured a conditional NCLB waiver in 2013. It exempts a state from fulfilling the 100 percent reading and math NCLB proficiency that had to be reached by 2014. The waiver also frees up a state to reallocate Title I federal funds (otherwise designated for federally dictated academic intervention programs) to use on remediation it deems most effective for its students.

Texas is one of 42 other states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the California consortium of eight major school districts to hold NCLB waivers, presently.

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.


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