The U.S. Department of Education will give the state a one-year reprieve from federal testing mandates under the No Child Left Behind law.
In a letter dated June 29, U.S. Department of Education Assistant Secretary Deborah Delisle wrote the state deserved the waiver based on the work it has done in adopting career and college-ready standards and its work in closing achievement and graduation gaps, among other reasons.
Delisle’s letter, however, made clear that Iowa needs to work on its waiver application if it wants permanent relief from No Child Left Behind requirements.
“I do not anticipate granting an extension of this one-year waiver,” Delisle wrote.
The freeze means that roughly 20 percent of students in any Iowa school district can fall short of state standards, but the school can still make what’s called adequate yearly progress. If it had not been approved, school districts would have to have roughly 87 percent of their students meeting or exceeding state standards in order to avoid sanctions. Schools would also have to reach 100 percent proficiency in math and reading by 2014.
Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass asked for the freeze last week after the U.S. Department of Education indicated that the state’s teacher evaluation system didn’t meet the requirements for a full waiver.
States must meet several standards to qualify for a federal waiver, including adoption of an evaluation system that identifies teachers as “effective, not effective, or highly effective.”
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, criticized the Department of Education for its decision on the initial waiver request. In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Friday, Grassley wrote that the agency had overstepped its authority, since it was essentially requiring Iowa to create a new system.
Gov. Terry Branstad and Glass, meanwhile, haven’t challenged the DOE’s authority to deny Iowa’s waiver; instead, they’ve laid the blame for its failure at the feet of the Legislature, specifically Senate Democrats.
In his education reform package, Branstad proposed a system where teachers could have the effectiveness designations. Instead, lawmakers created a panel to study different systems and make a recommendation to the Legislature.
Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, believes the Legislature’s language allows the state to meet the federal standard once the Legislature approves a recommendation. He criticized Branstad for “election-year finger-pointing.”
“The one thing that the governor requested but that SF 2284 did not do was to give Education Director Glass the unilateral power to adopt the educator evaluation system without legislative approval,” Quirmbach said. “Both houses of the Legislature and both parties agreed that that was too much power to vest in an unelected bureaucrat.”
In a news release announcing the U.S. DOE’s response on Monday, Glass said he was “grateful” for the decision.
“For one year, this measure will halt the ratcheting up of unrealistic targets and protect some schools from being impacted by the blame-and-shame sanctions of No Child Left Behind,” he said.