Indiana today got a one-year reprieve from possible penalties from the U.S. Department of Education.
Those penalties, including the loss of control over more than $200 million in federal aid that goes to local schools, wouldn’t happen before June 30 of 2015.
“Its a good thing for students and schools,” said Claire Fiddian-Green, the co-director of Gov. Mike Pence’s Center for Education and Career Innovation.
State superintendent Glenda Ritz also hailed the decision, saying it signaled her department’s work met fedral standards and put Indiana clearly on a path toward a long-term renewal of the waiver.
“Today’s decision by the U.S. Department of Education validates the work that we done,” she said.
Losing the waiver, releasing it from some of the rules of the federal No Child Left Behind Law, would have meant a share of money that now funds programs, pays salaries and otherwise supports efforts to raise student test scores could be taken away to be used for other services, such as hiring outside tutors to work with low-scoring children. Schools would likely have had to cut back on some services.
No Child Left Behind, signed in 2002, required states to establish testing and accountability systems to raise all children to proficiency in math and English. But test score growth expectations in NCLB that many states complained were unrealistically tough led President Obama’s administration to permit “waivers” from some of those rules.
Indiana was approved to use its own A to F school grading system for accountability under the waiver and pledged to adopt the Common Core academic standards to meet a requirement to follow standards that would produce graduates who are “college- and career-ready.”
In May the federal education department raised concerns that Indiana was not staying true to the 2012 waiver agreement. State officials now have 10 more months to convince federal officials they are in line with the promises they made. If they can, they could get the waiver extended for more multiple years.
One issue the U.S. Department of Education wants more explanation about is how thoroughly Indiana’s teacher and principal evaluation system measures and rewards improved student test scores and whether it ensures all schools meet its standards.
Some advocates who pushed for tougher evaluation when a law overhauling teacher evaluation passed in 2011 were disappointed this year when nearly all teachers were rated effective, just as they generally were in the past. The first results of the new system in May showed 97 percent of teachers statewide were rated effective or highly effective. Critics said it was implausible that so few teachers were ineffective.
Two factors may have helped those numbers stay high. Ritz allowed school districts last year to measure teachers less on their students’ test results and more on observations and other factors, citing online testing problems in 2013. Also, there was an exception to the 2011 law that allowed some school districts to delay using the new evaluation system until their union contracts expired. About 40 of Indiana’s 290 districts are still operating under old contracts and following their prior systems.
The extension means the state was not raised to “high risk” status, as some feared it might be, suggesting federal officials have higher confidence that their concerns can be resolved here than they do in four states that have been placed on that highest level of alert.
One state, Washington, saw its waiver revoked earlier this year.
Indiana’s waiver concerns reignited an ongoing debate between state Superintendent Glenda Ritz and Republican elected leaders, especially Pence, over who controls, and should answer for, Indiana’s education policy decisions.
In May, Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education Deb Delisle sent a letter to Ritz giving her 60 days to explain how Indiana would resolve concerns by federal officials on three fronts: whether its new standards and new tests were in line with federal expectations, whether Ritz was adequately monitoring low-scoring schools and whether teacher evaluation was working properly.
It appears the first two questions are resolved, and while there are questions about teacher evaluation, no conditions were placed on the waiver.
The Indiana State Board of Education, an 11-member body chaired by Ritz but otherwise appointed by Republican governors, in July passed a resolution critical of the Indiana education department’s thoroughness and accuracy in crafting the waiver. Ritz has said she feels those complaints, along with a critique of the Indiana Department of Education’s waiver extension proposal submitted to federal officials by CECI, were unfounded and put Indiana’s chances of keeping the waiver in jeopardy.
The state board is expected to discuss next steps when it meets on Wednesday.