The Federal Requirements of the ESEA Waiver

September 13, 2012

By Sam Rauschenberg

In February 2012, the U.S. Department of Education (US ED) granted a waiver from some accountability requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), more commonly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), to Georgia and ten other states. This waiver has broad implications for how the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) evaluates and supports its schools. Georgia’s application included components required by US ED and additional components that are unique to the state, as detailed in the boxes below.

US ED Requirements
Unique Components of Georgia’s Application
  • Identify Priority, Focus, and Reward Schools from Title I schools based upon a specified formula
  • Provide intensive support for Priority and Focus School for three years
  • Set a new statewide achievement goal
  • Develop a system to track progress toward the statewide goal for all students and within the 9 ESEA student subgroups (listed in Table 1)
  • Create the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) as the new, more inclusive statewide accountability system
  • Identify Alert Schools from among Title I and non-Title I schools to receive the same support as Focus Schools

The waiver will last through the 2014-15 school year. However, if Congress reauthorizes ESEA before that time, it will take precedent over the waiver. Though it expires in three years, GaDOE plans to maintain certain aspects of it, such as the CCRPI, beyond that time.

This education update is the first in a two-part series about the ESEA waiver. It focuses on why Georgia pursued the waiver and on the components of the waiver that US ED required states to implement. It also incorporates Alert Schools because they are closely related to Focus Schools.

A future education update will focus on Georgia’s new statewide accountability system, the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI), which will serve as the future of accountability for all public schools and districts in Georgia.

A Look Back at “No Child Left Behind” Requirements

NCLB set a goal of bringing all Georgia students to proficiency in math and English Language Arts/reading by 2013-14. Georgia also set a goal of a 100% graduation rate by the same date. Using baseline test performance, the state set annual measurable objectives (AMOs) for achievement, attendance (elementary and middle schools only), and graduation rates (high schools only) of “all students” and within nine student subgroups.[1]

For a school to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) toward this goal, it had to have at least 95 percent student participation on state tests and had to meet the state AMO for “all students” and in every subgroup. In other words, if a school missed AYP in one subgroup, it did not make AYP. Schools that missed AYP in the same area for two consecutive years were designated as “Needs Improvement” and received intervention from the GaDOE. If a school continued to miss AYP in subsequent years, state oversight and support increased with each year.

Why Georgia Pursued an ESEA Waiver

While ESEA provided a framework for state-level accountability, it only considered test participation rates, student performance in math and English Language Arts/reading, attendance, and graduation rates. This structure provided schools and districts with an incentive to focus on these areas at the expense of other subjects and factors in a student’s education. In response, the GaDOE applied for a waiver to create a broader measure of school performance in line with its focus on college and career readiness for all students.

Reward, Priority, Focus, and Alert Schools
Reward Schools

Another US ED requirement was that GaDOE identify Reward Schools instead of Title I Schools of Distinction.[2] Reward Schools fall into two categories, Highest Performing and Highest Progress. In October, the GaDOE will name 5% of Title I schools as Highest Performing and 10% of Title I schools as Highest Progress. The criteria for both designations are in the box below. The GaDOE will recognize Reward Schools at the annual Title I conference, and Reward Schools may receive financial awards at some point in the future.[3] [Update: the list of Reward Schools is now available.]

Reward Schools
Highest Performing (must meet all criteria)
Highest Progress (must meet all criteria)
  • The average achievement of “all students” on every CRCT and/or EOCT in a school is among the highest 5% of Title I schools over the last 3 years in Georgia.
  • For high schools, the graduation rate is among the highest rates among Title I schools.3
  • The school made AYP in 2011.
  • The school is not classified as Priority or Focus.
  • The school is among the highest 10% of Title I schools in academic progress of “all students,” OR in the case of high schools, the progress in graduation rates is highest among Title I schools.
  • The school is not classified as either Priority or Focus.
Priority and Focus Schools

As a part of the waiver application, US ED required that the GaDOE create a one-time designation of Priority and Focus Schools that would receive intensive state support for the next three years. The Priority designation focused on the performance of all students in a school, whereas the Focus designation emphasized within-school achievement gaps between subgroups. Only Title I schools could receive either designation, and it will last for three years. Per US ED guidelines, the GaDOE named 5% of Title I schools as Priority and 10% of Title I schools as Focus. Using the criteria below, GaDOE named 78 Priority Schools and 156 Focus Schools. The criteria for Priority and Focus Schools are described in the box below.

Priority and Focus Schools
Priority (must meet 1 of 3 criteria)
Focus (must meet 1 or 2 criteria and not be identified as Priority)
  • The achievement of “all students” in 2010-11 is among the lowest 5% of Title I schools in Georgia, and the school did not make progress in aggregate achievement from the past year (2009-10),
  • The graduation rate has been below 60% for the past two years,
  • OR the school is receiving a federal School Improvement Grant (SIG).
  • The graduation rate has been below 60% for the past two years,
  • OR the school has the largest within-school achievement gap between highest- and lowest-achieving subgroups, or for high schools, the gap in graduation rates between subgroups.
Alert Schools

Per US ED guidelines, non-Title I schools were not identified as Priority or Focus schools. As a result, the GaDOE created three categories of Alert Schools that will receive the same level of state support as Focus Schools for three years, but they do not have to be Title I schools. Unlike Priority and Focus Schools, which were named once, the state will identify Alert Schools each year.

Unlike Priority and Focus Schools, the US ED did not mandate the creation of Alert Schools. The GaDOE released the first list of Alert Schools in May. It includes 10 Graduation Alert Schools, 13 Subgroup Alert Schools, and 6 Subject Alert Schools.

Alert Schools
Graduation Alert
Subgroup Alert Subject Alert
High schools whose subgroup graduation rate falls three standard deviations or more below the statewide subgroup average. Schools whose subgroup performance on any statewide assessment falls three standard deviations or more below the statewide subgroup average. Schools whose subject area performance on any statewide assessment falls three standard deviations or more below the statewide subject area average.
State Support of Priority, Focus, and Alert Schools

Priority Schools receive more intensive GaDOE support than Focus Schools. First, districts must work collaboratively with the GaDOE to assess the leadership of the current principal. The GaDOE also recommends that the district hire an instructional coach to support teachers in the school. Some of the remaining requirements include participating in a GAPSS analysis of school performance and needs, developing a school improvement plan, providing additional learning time, attending mandatory GaDOE professional learning, facilitating collaborative planning among faculty, offering a Flexible Learning Program, and developing a plan for parent and community engagement. To support these interventions, the GaDOE has assigned a state school improvement specialist (SIS) to each Priority School.

Focus and Alert Schools must implement many of the same requirements as Priority Schools. However, the state did not assign a SIS to each school or require the district to review the current principal’s performance. Instead, the state provides support to the district and professional learning for school-level staff.

The New Statewide Achievement Goal

Under the waiver, the new statewide achievement goal is to reduce the number of students who are not proficient on every CRCT and EOCT by 50% by 2016-17 across the state and in each subgroup. Additionally, the state will reduce the number of students who do not graduate by 50% across the state and in each subgroup over the same period.[4] The state used 2011 graduation and proficiency rates as a baseline to calculate annual performance targets. Unlike ESEA, the performance and graduation rate baselines differ between subgroups based upon the baseline performance in each subgroup instead of being the same for all subgroups.

Table 1 provides 9th Grade Literature performance targets from the waiver application. As an illustration of how targets are calculated, the 2010-11 proficiency rate for economically disadvantaged (ED) students across Georgia was 74.0%. In other words, 26% of ED students were not proficient. Under the waiver, the percent of ED students who are not proficient must be cut in half to 13% by 2016-17. Thus, the performance target for proficiency is 87%. The annual performance targets between 2010-11 and 2016-17 represent linear increases between the two percentages.

Performance Flags: Tracking Progress toward the Statewide Goal

To measure progress toward these performance targets, the GaDOE will use performance flags. Instead of the pass/fail nature of AYP, schools will receive an overall CCRPI score and one of four flags for subgroup performance on all CRCTs and EOCTs taken in a school.[5] High schools will also receive performance flags for subgroup graduation rates.[6] Table 2 provides an example of a school’s performance flags for 9th grade Literature. The key for the four flags is included at the bottom of the table.

In Table 2, Asian/Pacific Islander earned a Green Flag because the school proficiency rate (95.1%) is higher than the state subgroup performance target (87.5%) and the state performance target for “all students” (83.6%). EL students earned a Yellow “S” Flag because the school proficiency rate (72.1%) exceeded the state subgroup performance target (50.2%) but still fell short of the state performance target for “all students” (83.6%). White students earned a Yellow “SG” Flag because the school proficiency rate (85.3%) was below the state subgroup performance target (90.6%) but above the state performance target for “all students” (83.6%). ED students earned a Red Flag because their school proficiency rate (64.5%) fell below their state subgroup performance target (76.2%) and the state performance target for “all students” (83.6%). American Indian/Alaskan students did not receive a performance flag because the school does not have any students in this subgroup.[7]

Conclusion

Georgia’s ESEA waiver sets a new statewide achievement goal of reducing the number of students who are not proficient by 50% by 2016-17, and it creates a new performance flag system as a more precise way to measure progress toward that goal. It also ensures that underperforming Title I and non-Title I schools receive state support for three years. Finally, through the creation of the CCRPI, the waiver provides a foundation for a more inclusive statewide accountability system that will last beyond the waiver’s three-year span. The box at right provides a preview of the CCRPI’s framework. GOSA’s next education update on the ESEA waiver will focus on the CCRPI once the GaDOE has finalized the calculation for it.

Snapshot of the CCRPI: Georgia’s Unique Statewide Accountability System
  • The CCRPI will provide a more inclusive accountability system for all public schools and districts in Georgia.
  • The Performance Flag System and school designations (Priority, Focus, Alert, and Reward) are not components of the CCRPI score.
  • 2011-12 is a study year. GaDOE is gathering stakeholder and Technical Advisory Committee input to develop the index. It will include multiple measures of achievement, progress, and achievement gap closure.
  • The achievement score will count more than other factors. It will include measures of content mastery, post-school readiness, and graduation rates (high school) or a predictor of graduation (elementary and middle school).
  • GaDOE will finalize the formula by January 2013.
  • A future GOSA education update will outline the details of CCRPI.

 


[1] Under ESEA, “all students” is considered a subgroup representing every student in a school.

[2] Schools in which children from low-income families make up at least 40 percent of enrollment are eligible to use federal Title I funds. Any school that opts to receive these funds is considered a Title I school.

[3] GaDOE is waiting for a more specific definition of the graduation rate criterion from US ED.

[4] The original waiver application included graduation rates calculated using the proxy formula. Following US ED requirements, the GaDOE now calculates graduation rates using the new adjusted cohort model and is waiting for US ED approval of revised performance targets using this formula.

[5] As noted previously, the next education update on the ESEA waiver will discuss the CCRPI formula.

[6] The calculation of CCRPI is independent of the performance flag determinations.

[7] Under AYP, subgroups had to have at least 40 students or be at least 10% of the student population to be counted. The performance flag system will have a minimum subgroup size, but the GaDOE has not determined the group size at this point.