State readies request for NCLB waiver

On Sept. 6 the State of Alaska will join a growing list of states applying for waivers from certain previsions of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), substituting their own state-developed educational plan. 


Portions of the Alaska Department of Education & Early Development’s three-part plan have already been implemented while others are still in the public comment phase and could be changed before being enacted. 

Further, administrators from the Alaska’s department of education said the process of getting a waiver granted is a dynamic one which requires the state to work with the federal Department of Education to change the plan ensuring that it meets the “rigorous and comprehensive” requirement of the federal government. 

So far, 33 states hve been successful in their waiver applications according to the department of education. 

The public commenting period on Alaska’s plan ended Tuesday Sept. 21, and will go through a peer-review process in October. 

If the state does not receive its waiver the number of schools failing to make Adequate Yearly Progress, the cornerstone assessment results of NCLB, would ‘increase dramatically over the next two years,” according to the state’s department of education. 

Under NCLB a certain number of students need to pass standardized tests in order for schools to achieve adequate yearly progress designations and that number has to increase every year. 

Under the decade-old NCLB, students were supposed to reach proficiency in math and reading scores by 2014, a target many administrators said was unrealistic.

“One of the problems that happened with (Adequate Yearly Progress) was, in the early year of NCLB district’s set targets that might have been the same for a couple of years,” said Margaret MacKinnon, Title I and elementary and secondary education act administrator with the Alaska’s department of education and early development.”Now we’re at the end of a cycle so those targets are jumping.”

In July, the state was granted a partial NCLB waiver which allowed it to freeze state proficiency targets at the 2010-11.

The new waiver, if accepted, could go into effect as soon as the 2013-14 school year. 

The state’s plan is subdivided into three principles “college and career-ready standards,” “assessments, accountability and support,” and “supporting effective instruction and leadership.”


Principle one

The first principal of the state’s plan, college and career-ready standards, has seen widespread implementation as the state adopted new English language arts and math standards in early June. 

The federal department of education required the state to adopt college and career-ready standards in at least reading, language arts and mathematics, then develop a plan to transition to those standards. 

According to the state’s department of education it also had to adopt “high-quality assessments” and English language proficiency standards. 

To satisfy that requirement, changes to the annual Standard’s Based Assessments will be tested beginning in 2013 according to the state’s waiver application. 

The state will be running an awareness campaign on the new standards in the coming years before rolling out the final changes to the Standard’s Based Assessment during the 2015-16 school year according to the waiver application. 

Sondra Meredith, administrator for teacher education and certification with the Alaska Department of Education, said that while portions of the other two principals had yet to be finalized statewide and were still open to changes, the first principal of the state’s waiver was ‘pretty much done.’

“We’ve adopted new standards and the Board of Education has approved that and the rollout that we talk about is how we’re going to get this information out to districts and teachers, that’s all going to happen no matter what because that’s been approved.”

The state received a letter of support from the University of Alaska that certified students who met the new standards wouldn’t need remedial classes in college and the standards are equal to common core standards adopted in other states, according to the department of education.


Principle two

The second principal of the state’s waiver requires that it provide accountability and support for schools and set ‘ambitious but achievable’ AMO’s or annual measurable objectives for the states annual tests. According to the state department of education it has to provide incentives and support for all Title I schools and build state, district and school capacity to improve student learning.

MacKinnon, said the state was creating its own accountability system that would reward schools for increases in student achievement.

“We have created a system ... based on the Alaska School’s Performance Index, so each school would have, in a sense, a rating or a score on a 100-point scale that was a combination of several indicators,” she said.

Each school would get a star rating with five being the highest and one being the lowest according to the waiver application. 

The star rating system was one of several issues Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Steve Atwater addressed in his comments to the state. 

Atwater said using stars may not be viewed as the best motivator and he would rather see a different term. 

“Star rating makes a school sound like a hotel or restaurant,” Atwater wrote in his comments. 

MacKinnon said each school’s rating would be more complex than NCLB’s Adequate Yearly Progress designation as it acknowledges student progress in certain areas even if schools don’t reach their target goals. 

“It’s a more complete picture that’s not just about one assessment,” she said. “It’s a diverse state and schools are very different so we want to try and build a system from what’s in place now that gives a better overall picture.”


Principle three

The third principal of the state’s waiver requires that the state support effective instruction and leadership. 

Meredith said NCLB didn’t provide a lot of guidance for how districts should measure effective instruction which include teacher and principal evaluation.

However, Meredith said the state had been requiring districts submit plans for teacher and administrator evaluation since 1975.

She said the new component to the evaluation plan was that it link yearly evaluations to employment decisions and professional development for each teacher. 

“They’re asking for all of those things and we’ve been doing that for a number of years,” she said. “In addition, they also want to see student learning, student achievement data incorporated into the evaluation so that when you looked at a teacher not only were you looking at standards that you had already established you’re also looking at the results of their instruction.”

Meredith said the state department of education had a proposal that it had been working on for a couple of years when it decided to apply for a waiver.

The prolonged public comment period on that proposal ends in November. 

She said the state would also include language that required evaluation systems to be equitable and fair as the current system in place didn’t address that issue. 

“Districts are currently training evaluators, but we haven’t really put down in words the expectations that differences between evaluators would be indistinguishable because they would be seeing the same things,” she said. 

She said the process of developing a new evaluation system was far from over and was still subject to extensive changes based on both federal and state input. 

Ultimately, Meredith said she thought the waiver was a great opportunity for the state to determine what was best for its educational system and continue to be eligible for federal funds. 

“I think NCLB locked us into some pretty tight parameters and I think this is an opportunity for us to take those parameters and really look at our local needs or the uniqueness of our rural situations and come up with a plan that’s more tolerable.”


Rashah McChesney can be reached at