State education officials applied for a No Child Left Behind waiver in February, and they contend that the five-star rating system they’ve proposed as an alternative is unique and relies on more student data than plans proposed in states that have won waivers already.
They’ve also been working with the federal government since April to address concerns about Idaho’s new accountability plan.
The U.S. Department of Education responded to the waiver application this spring, saying it was robust in teacher and administrator training opportunities but needed work in other areas. Among the agency’s concerns: Idaho’s plan didn’t put enough emphasis on graduation rates and could potentially mask lower-performing students.
Idaho has since tweaked the system to place greater weight on graduation rates and to require school districts to adopt plans to help minority and economically disadvantaged students who are lagging behind their peers, said deputy superintendent Nick Smith.
But Idaho’s waiver application is one of five still under review, according to federal officials.
The state is working to ensure that Idaho’s new system doesn’t mask lower-performing students and that schools with significant achievement gaps won’t be able to land a five-star or four-star rating. Minority and economically disadvantaged student data will be reported individually, just as it was under No Child Left Behind, Smith said.
“All the data for those sub-groups will be reported publicly; we’re not masking them. It was always our intent,” Smith said.
The wait on the waiver has been frustrating for public schools waiting for clarification on what student data to use, said Rob Winslow, executive director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators
“So we’re still in limbo,” Winslow said. “When a principal’s hired they need to know on their evaluation going into the year what does that 50 percent mean. And we don’t have any real true direction from the state yet.”
Winslow is confident that schools will get clarification, but the timing has put them in a pinch, he said.
“We shouldn’t be going, ‘What are we doing?’ ” he said. “We’re starting a school year.”
California, Illinois, Iowa and Nevada also are waiting to hear whether they’ll be able to ditch key requirements of No Child Left Behind, a law passed under President George W. Bush and known primarily for its emphasis on standardized tests and the labeling of thousands of schools as “failures.”
President Barack Obama is granting states waivers from the law if they meet certain conditions. No Child requires all students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014 but the waivers throw out that fundamental requirement, provided states offer a viable alternative plan.
More than 30 states have been freed from the law’s key requirements, while about a dozen states have not sought a waiver.
Idaho education officials attributed the wait on their application to the complexity of their new accountability system, which will rate public schools based on multiple measures, not just standardized test scores that measure student proficiency and academic growth, said state schools chief Tom Luna.
For example, Idaho’s schools also will be judged not only on the Idaho Standardized Achievement Tests, or the ISAT, but also on how students perform on college entrance exams and how many of their secondary students are taking advanced placement courses.
“Those are things that I think you’ll find that most states are not doing,” Luna said. “They’re just looking at their standardized tests and how many kids can pass it and what kind of growth students are making toward proficiency. We want multiple measures.”
Further complicating Idaho’s application, Luna said, is that it has proposed one accountability system to replace No Child Left Behind. Some other states have opted for plans that include a separate set of rankings for their bottom 15 percent of schools, Luna said.
“We refuse to have two accountability systems. We’re going to have one,” he said.
As part of the waiver application, the federal government required states to show they have a plan to help low-performing schools.
Some states adopted a system that ranks all their schools on a five-star or A-thru-F scale while also developing a separate ranking system for lower-performing schools classified as “priority” or “focus,” to win waiver approval, Luna’s agency said. Idaho wants to use one five-star scale to cover all schools.
“Our one- to two-star schools will be our priority and focused schools,” Luna said.
He opted for a five-star scale because he believes it’s a system the general public can relate to, with hotel and restaurant reviews based on similar ratings.
“Having two accountability systems will not only confuse parents, but it will also begin to confuse educators, and then it will just be useless,” Luna said. “People will no longer rely on it in determining how their schools are doing academically.”
This fall, Idaho will rank schools on the new five-star plan and on whether they made adequate yearly progress, or AYP, under No Child Left Behind as the state transitions.
“We have to announce them together because a school’s AYP rating will be matched with their star rating and that will determine, basically, what accountability measures or what rewards they receive,” said Smith, the deputy superintendent. “This is the only year we’re going to do that.”