By Lesley Weidenbener
INDIANAPOLIS – Federal officials have granted the state a three-year waiver that frees Indiana schools from some of the requirements of the controversial No Child Left Behind Act.
The approval comes about 18 months after federal officials had expressed some concerns about the way the state was monitoring troubled schools and implementing academic standards and evaluations.
State Superintendent Glenda Ritz has been working with federal authorities since and she noted that the state’s Division of Outreach for School Improvement is now receiving federal recognition for its work.
The approval means the Indiana Department of Education won’t have to apply for a waiver again until 2018.
“Because of this waiver, local schools throughout our state will continue to have more control over how they use precious federal resources,” said Ritz, a Democrat who is running for governor in 2016.
However, state officials might have to seek federal permission to make changes in its school evaluation system that Ritz has proposed to the State Board of Education.
Congress passed the No Child Left Behind law in 2002. The law imposed a tough system that required test scores to improve within tight demographic groups. If a school missed the mark in just one category – such as special education students – it would fail to meet what the law called adequate yearly progress.
The waiver allows states to create alternative evaluation systems and gives schools more flexibility over the way they spend federal dollars.
But because the waiver is based on the state’s evaluation plans, Ritz’s proposal to pause the state’s A-F grading system for schools could violate the terms. The proposal is meant to help schools ease into a new testing program that is expected to reduce scores and therefore lower school grades.
Ritz wants to let schools keep the better of their 2014 and 2015 grades. State Board of Education members postponed a decision, in part because they want to find out whether the proposal violates state law.
Federal authorities have been giving states some flexibility to suspend their accountability system to deal with higher standards and tougher testing but the state would still need permission to do so.
On Thursday, Republican Gov. Mike Pence lauded the federal decision to grant the state’s waiver, which he said “maintains the local control of education that school districts, teachers and Hoosier parents have come to expect.”
Lesley Weidenbener is executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.