Feds seek more details on Minn's No Child Left Behind waiver request

Education commissioner
Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius.
Photo courtesy of Gov. Dayton's office

Federal officials are asking for more details on Minnesota's request for a waiver from the No Child Left Behind law.

Eleven states applied for waivers from major parts of the law that officials say wrongly labels schools as failures. Minnesota wants to use different calculations to measure schools, including individual student growth, high school graduation rates, and the size of a school's achievement gaps.

A letter last week from the federal Education Department neither approves nor denies Minnesota's application, but rather seeks more information. Minnesota Education commissioner Brenda Cassellius said all 11 states applying got such feedback.

"We knew that this was going to be a back-and-forth, where we would have to strengthen some areas. And when you have six weeks to write something, you give them the guts of it," Cassellius said. "And now they want the kind of meat on the bone."

The feds seeks more details on the proposed accountability measurements, Minnesota's capacity to implement changes, and the principal and teacher evaluation systems that are still being developed.

In one example, federal officials questioned whether Minnesota's proposal would enact an accountability measurement that over-emphasizes 'normative growth.'

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Cassellius notes that Minnesota is not asked to abandon the idea, but for more details on how it would work.

"We're still going to keep our growth measure and provide them with more information on how we think this helps our kids," Cassellius said. "In Minnesota, we have a problem with some of our kids not growing as fast as other kids, and so we're going to give schools added points for moving those kids faster. But really, there's this expectation that all kids have to move."

Regarding evaluation systems, Cassellius believes many of the concerns were raised because the state's application incorrectly indicated that statewide systems were already in place for evaluating teachers and principals. Those systems are still in development, and clarifying that point should address most of those concerns, Cassellius said. States that win waiver approval would have until 2014 to have evaluation systems in place.

While outlining these and other concerns, U.S. acting-Assistant Secretary Michael Yudin in a letter said his agency is confident that the federal and state governments "will be able to work together to address outstanding concerns and provide Minnesota with the requested flexibility."

States are expected to start hearing in January which waivers will be approved.