Michigan seeks relief from NCLB demands; others may follow

The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) has become the latest state to request a waiver of the No Child Left Behind requirement that 100 percent of all students are proficient on the state assessments by 2014. The state assessments consist of the Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP) and Michigan Merit Exam (MME). Michigan made its request in response to the new college and career ready cut scores that will go into effect with the upcoming school year.

The MDE believes a 100 percent proficiency target is unreasonable, given the heightened rigor of the cut scores, according to a MDE news release. Consequently, the state wants to reduce the target percentage to 80 percent of students who are career and college ready, or on track for career and college readiness. The release states, “This aligns with our proposed state accreditation system, which sets 80 percent of schools with 80 percent of students on track for career and college readiness as a target at which the accreditation system must be revised.” Michigan has requested a waiver of the 100 percent proficiency requirement, and wants to extend the deadline to reach the proficiency target to 10 years from the granting of this waiver.

Michigan joins a growing list of states seeking relief from the accountability provisions of NCLB. Last week, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan granted Idaho’s request to maintain the same proficiency targets in reading and math for a third straight year, the maximum allowable under the law, according to a published report in Education Week. Eearlier in July, however, Montana was told that it could lose some of its $44 million in federal Title I education funds - tied to compliance with NCLB—if it maintained the same targets for a fourth straight year. 

Tennessee has asked for a much more comprehensive NCLB waiver, according to The Tennessean of Nashville. Tennessee, which won a Race to the Top grant of $500 million from the Obama administration last year, is hoping to substitute its own standards for the federal ones. The state hasn’t heard back yet from the department.

During the past six months at least five states have requested waivers from federal regulations.  In addition to Tennessee’s request, Kentucky, Arkansas, Kansas and Michigan have asked for relief. Utah, like Idaho, has worked with the department to modify its performance standards but has not officially asked for a waiver.

The Huffington Post also reported on Thursday that Georgia, Connecticut, New Mexico and Missouri may also request federal waivers. In Missouri, despite a rise in test scores, 84 percent of the state's schools failed to make "adequate yearly progress" last year, according to the published report.

In June, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he planned to provide "regulatory flexibility" to states on NCLB requirements because of Congress has failed to act on a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, better known as NCLB. States have complained that escalating benchmarks for pupil performance in the current version of the law would force them to classify hundreds of additional schools as unsatisfactory.

Though Duncan’s June announcement on flexibility indicated that a formal waiver process would be forthcoming, the department has yet to release a final plan on how waivers would work and what alternative standards states might be required to achieve in place of the current ones. Education Week reports that there could be multiple types of waivers and that states could be asked to meet new kinds of standards, such as college and career readiness goals, instead of the current standardized test performance thresholds.