Waiver gives Virginia schools four years without sanctions

Virginia schools have been granted a four-year extension of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act’s flexibility waiver, the Virginia Department of Education announced earlier this week.

The waiver, originally approved in 2012, grants Virginia public schools relief from No Child Left Behind-era sanctions and requirements, a news release from the VDOE explained.

Approved by the U.S. Department of Education on Tuesday, the extension allows schools in Virginia and four other states a flexibility waiver through the end of the 2018-19 school year.

Without the waiver, announced in November, most Virginia schools now would be labeled as failing for not meeting the outdated law’s goal of 100 percent proficiency for all students by 2014.

The waiver allows school divisions to use federal funds for resources and smart interventions that produce positive results, Superintendent of Public Instruction Steven R. Staples stated for the release.

“This extension will allow schools, divisions and the state to plan for the next four years with clear and achievable goals for further narrowing achievement gaps and improving instruction in under-performing schools,” he said.

The waiver especially helps Title 1 schools struggling to meet state standards in math and reading. It also helps the lowest-performing 5 percent known as priority schools and 10 percent called focus schools.

In approving the four-year extension, the U.S. department cited improvements in student and school performance.

All student subgroups in Virginia met or exceeded statewide progress targets for reading in 2014. Eight of the state’s nine subgroups met or exceeded annual objectives for increased achievement in mathematics. Seven of 37 Title I priority schools and 49 of 73 focus schools left improvement status in 2014 as a result of implementing needs-based interventions targeted at increasing the achievement of under-performing groups of students.

The department also agreed to a change in how Virginia measures and reports student growth. Beginning in 2015-2016, the department will move from a relative growth measure to a measure that compares a student’s performance to his or her own past level of achievement.

Staples said Virginia will seek expanded flexibility through additional waiver amendments if Congress is unable to agree on reauthorization.