Feds deny Texas request for waiver on No Child Left Behind requirements

Posted Monday, Sep. 09, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The federal government has denied the state’s request to waive No Child Left Behind testing requirements for students in elementary and middle school, the Texas Education Agency announced Monday.

If the waiver had been granted, students who excel on state reading and math exams in the third and fifth grades would have been allowed to skip exams in those subjects in the fourth, sixth and seventh grades because of a state law passed this year, House Bill 866, by state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Humble.

All students would be tested on math in the third and fifth grades; on reading in the third, fifth and eighth grades.

Some states have been granted waivers from the requirements.

In a Sept. 6 letter, Assistant Secretary of Education Deborah Delisle told TEA commissioner Michael Williams that the federal education department would not exercise its authority to waive No Child Left Behind provisions that require Texas and other states to test public school students in grades three through eight annually in reading and math and at least once in science in elementary and middle school.

She wrote that annual assessment was “critical to holding schools and LEAs (local education agencies) accountable for improving the achievement of all students.”

Despite sharply reducing the number of standardized tests high school students must pass to graduate, lawmakers — in response to widespread concern over the effects of excessive assessment on classroom instruction — failed this year to bring conclusive relief for students in lower grades, who take a total of 17 state tests before entering high school.

Like many states, Texas has currently applied for a separate, general waiver of No Child Left Behind.

A decision on that request, which would not affect testing requirements, is expected soon.

“As has been granted in other states, Texas school districts also deserve some relief from NCLB,” Commissioner Williams said in a written statement. “I remain optimistic that after months of discussion with the U.S. Department of Education, our districts will be granted greater flexibility for some NCLB provisions.”

When he first decided to challenge the provisions in 2012, Williams wrote in a letter to school districts statewide that the federal standards have created “an obsolete system that does not adequately reflect the accomplishments of the state’s schools. This, combined with [schools] being required to meet and function within two different assessment and accountability systems, takes valuable resources and time away from the intent and focus of improving student achievement and school accountability.”

Interestingly, the federal No Child Left Behind law was born in Texas, and billionaire Ross Perot was the first to rally big business to support tougher standardized testing and high school graduation standards here nearly three decades ago.

But Texas officials during this year’s legislative session made it clear they now are ready to step back from the strenuous accountability policies they had long been a national leader in championing, amid fears that youngsters are being forced to take too many high-stakes tests and that too many might drop out because of higher expectations.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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