NYSED requests state accountability waiver

The New York Education Department has asked the U.S. Department of Education for a waiver related to state accountability and Title I School Improvement funds impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

MASSENA — More than 3,900 comments were received by the state Education Department regarding a federal waiver request related to state accountability and Title I School Improvement funds impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The comments were left by parents, teachers and school staff members starting Dec. 1 and ending Dec. 15, and Education Department officials said they were overwhelmingly in support of the department’s proposed waiver.

“We have heard from educators, parents and stakeholders that we simply cannot restart the accountability system without considering the ever-changing conditions schools and communities continue to experience because of the pandemic,” Board of Regents Chancellor Lester W. Young Jr. said in a prepared statement. “We hope USDE will agree that a fair and equitable approach to re-starting the accountability system is in the best interest of students, schools and districts.”

The waiver, which was submitted to the U.S. Department of Education for consideration, was sent on behalf of all Local Education Agencies, LEAs in the state. It requested additional flexibility related to certain provisions of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act about identification of schools and districts in need of improvement using data from the 2021-22 school year, as well as use of Title I School Improvement funds.

The Every Student Succeeds Act was signed into law in 2015, replacing and updating the No Child Left Behind Act, enacted in 2002. The updated law took effect for the 2017-18 school year. The Every Student Succeeds Act retained the annual standardized testing requirements introduced by the No Child Left Behind Act, but moved accountability to the state level, which must submit an accountability plan to the federal department.

New York’s waiver proposed to eliminate requirements to identify schools for comprehensive and targeted support and improvement in fall 2022 based on 2021-22 school year results. It also proposed using Title I School Improvement funds to support Good Standing schools that were identified as at risk of becoming “Targeted Support and Improvement Schools” before the pandemic.

“We cannot expect that data affected by the COVID-19 pandemic can be accurately or fairly used for measuring growth or assigning accountability levels,” state Education Commissioner Betty A. Rosa said in a prepared statement. “Given the complexity of the accountability system, and the extent of the disruption, you cannot just flip a switch and expect to re-start the process. We owe it to our students, educators and families to have a thoughtful and deliberate transition to resuming the state’s accountability system.”

By law, the U.S. secretary of education has 120 days to act on the waiver requests, but state officials said they’re hopeful for an expedited response “as the USDE is aware of the time-sensitive nature of these requests.”

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