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Washington Secures ESEA Waiver

OLYMPIA — July 6, 2012 (updated July 23, 2012) — State Superintendent Randy Dorn today announced that the U.S. Department of Education has granted Washington’s waiver request from Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) requirements. Washington is one of 26 states that have received waivers from ESEA to date.

“This decision is welcome news that gives our state the opportunity to implement bold reforms around standards and accountability,” Dorn said. “It allows state and local educators to decide how to best meet the individual needs of students they serve. Current ESEA law is written in a way that narrowly defines ‘success’ based mainly on standardized test scores.”

While Dorn acknowledged the importance of test scores as a component in ensuring accountability, he stated that getting kids to be career and college ready requires much more. Schools need to be serving their students and communities in areas like school environment and access to rigorous coursework, as well as providing a well-rounded education that will lead to success in a knowledge-based economy.

Dorn emphasized that receiving the waiver was a team effort. “Gov. Chris Gregoire and Sen. Patty Murray deserve a lot of credit,” he said. “Both were great public advocates for our application.”

“I couldn't be more pleased with today’s announcement,” Gov. Gregoire said. “We worked tremendously hard to earn this waiver—working closely with our partners at the local, state and the federal levels.

“This waiver provides our school districts with the necessary flexibility to improve student learning based on the students’ and their community’s needs. And it recognizes the collaborative efforts the state undertook to reform teacher and principal evaluations, culminating in the passage of ESSB 5895 this session. Congratulations to all those who worked tirelessly to secure this waiver.”

The waiver request rested on three principles:

  • Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Dorn has worked extensively with stakeholder groups to develop the state's approach to implementing CCSS English language arts and mathematics. He formally adopted CCSS on July 14, 2011. The expertise and perspectives of teachers and administrators are critical to the State's efforts to effectively and fully implement the CCSS by 2013-14.
  • Accountability System and Index. While federal requirements limit tracking and reporting data from state assessments to reading and math, along with graduation rates and other indicators for non-high schools, Washington has long been committed to evaluating school performance more broadly. The revised index will include both proficiency on multiple content areas and student growth data to provide a clearer and more equitable evaluation of school and district performance over time.
  • Teacher/Principal Evaluation. The new evaluation system holds educators accountable and provides a framework for meaningful professional growth. This system, built on the foundation of the new teacher and principal criteria and developed by Washington state educators, provides a direction that will empower teachers, principals and district leaders to meet the needs of students in Washington. The new evaluation system sets high expectations for what teachers and principals should know and be able to do, values diversity and fosters a high commitment to teaching and leading as professional practice.

School districts will see the results of the waiver immediately. Before the waiver was granted, districts had been required to set aside a statewide total of roughly $34 million in their budgets to pay for outside service providers with little accountability. Now that Washington has received the waiver, districts will be allowed to spend that money ways they determine most appropriate, within ESEA Title I rules.

One component of ESEA, Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), requires that all students pass both the reading and math assessments by 2014. The waiver agreement replaces that provision with a focus on opportunity gaps. Subgroups of students (such as black, Hispanic, Asian, special education, students receiving free or reduced-price meals) will need to have the difference between their scores in 2011 and 100 percent cut in half by 2017.

For example, if one subgroup’s reading scores averaged 74 percent proficient in 2011, that subgroup would need to score 87 percent proficient by 2017, because 87 is halfway between 74 and 100.

Dorn noted that, while helpful to districts, the waiver is only the first step to a more permanent solution. That opinion was echoed by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, who said: “This is great news for our schools. ESEA isn’t working for students across America, and the fact that so many states need waivers highlights that fact clearly. I am going to keep working hard in the Senate to reauthorize and reform our federal education law so it works for Washington state.”

Another part of the waiver agreement requires the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) annually to identify “priority schools,” “focus schools” and “reward schools”:

  • Priority schools are among the lowest 5 percent of Title I schools in the state, based on achievement on the statewide assessments, with a demonstrated a lack of progress on those assessments over three years. If the school is a high school, it has a consistent graduation rate of less than 60 percent. The goal of identifying priority schools is to turn around performance, close persistent opportunity gaps, and substantially improve student learning and outcomes.
  • Focus schools are among the lowest 10 percent of Title I schools in the state. They have the consistently lowest performing subgroups on statewide assessments in Reading and Mathematics (combined) over three years. The list of Focus Schools also includes Title I high schools with subgroups that have consistent graduation rates of less than 60 percent over three years. The goal of identifying focus schools is to turn around performance, close persistent opportunity gaps, and substantially improve student learning and outcomes.
  • Reward schools are classified either as “highest-performing schools” or a “high-progress schools.” A highest-performing school is a Title I school that has met Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in both Reading and Math for three years, and has no significant opportunity gaps. If the school is a high school, it must also be among the Title I schools with the highest graduation rates. A high-progress school is a Title I school in the top 10 percent of Title I schools in Reading and Math, combined, for three years. If the school is a high school, it must also be among the Title I schools with the most progress in increasing graduation rates.


About OSPI
The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is the primary agency charged with overseeing K–12 education in Washington state. Led by State School Superintendent Randy Dorn, OSPI works with the state’s 295 school districts and nine educational service districts to administer basic education programs and implement education reform on behalf of more than one million public school students.

OSPI provides equal access to all programs and services without discrimination based on sex, race, creed, religion, color, national origin, age, honorably discharged veteran or military status, sexual orientation, gender expression or identity, the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability, or the use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability. Questions and complaints of alleged discrimination should be directed to the Equity and Civil Rights Director at (360) 725-6162 or P.O. Box 47200, Olympia, WA 98504-7200.

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Nathan Olson
OSPI Communications Manager
(360) 725-6015

For more information

Communications Manager
Nathan Olson
(360) 725-6015


   Updated 1/2/2014

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