Elkhart County school officials discuss Indiana's potential loss of NCLB waiver

Indiana could lose a 2012 waiver that granted schools flexibility in measuring student success.

Posted on May 14, 2014 at 5:07 p.m.

A 2012 waiver gave Indiana and other states some freedom from the strict requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

But recently the U.S. Department of Education let Indiana know that its wavier could be in jeopardy.

According to the Associated Press, the U.S. Education Department is concerned with how Indiana is working with low-performing schools, the state’s teacher evaluation systems, and Indiana’s decision to withdraw from the Common Core.

The federal education department outlined these concerns in a May 1 letter obtained by the Associated Press, placing Indiana’s waiver into a conditional status.

Indiana’s education department has until June 30 to respond.

If Indiana loses its NCLB waiver, schools in the state will revert to old requirements about how student success is measured.

Some local educators say losing the waiver would most impact Title I schools – schools with a high percentage of children from low-income families.

That’s because Title I schools used to be required to pay for transportation to other schools for students who chose to leave the Title I school, and set aside funds for education services with outside contractors, according to Renee Cocanower, director of secondary curriculum for Concord Community Schools.

“The effect of that is less money for school-based interventions for students in need,” she added.

There are 31 Title I schools in Elkhart County, according to a 2014 report from the state.

Jim Bennett, director of curriculum and instruction for Wa-Nee Schools, said he is not quite sure how the loss of the NCLB waiver would affect local schools.

But he wonders if school grades from the state would be affected.

Part of the NCLB requirements say that 100 percent of a schools’ students should pass standardized tests. Under the waiver, Indiana schools have avoided that difficult-to-achieve benchmark.

“NCLB says that every kid…has to pass the test,” Bennett said. “Well, that’s probably not realistic for long-term purposes.”

Kids who aren't yet proficient in English, who have special needs, or those who are just new to the school district will have issues passing the tests, Bennett pointed out. Indiana’s waiver from NCLB allowed schools to work with those students and show their progress in different ways.

Cocanower, from Concord schools, said the effect losing the waiver may have on school grades is not clear yet.

Elkhart Community Schools spokeswoman Shawn Hannon said administrators are discussing the possible implications of Indiana losing the NCLB waiver.

But “we are waiting on guidance from the department of education,” she said.

After the news broke that Indiana’s NCLB waiver is on conditional status, Indiana School Superintendent Glenda Ritz said in a statement that she’s willing to work with the federal education department to get the situation worked out.

“Moving forward, we will respond to USED within the next two months with amendments that capture steps we have taken to ensure full compliance with our flexibility waiver,” Ritz said in a May 2 statement. “I look forward to working with Secretary (Arne) Duncan to improve education for all Indiana students.”

Indiana’s board of education is in the midst of talks with Ritz about what the education department is doing to secure the waiver.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Follow reporter Lydia Sheaks on Twitter at @LydiaSheaks


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