The “sleight of hand” process used by the Duncan Dept. of Education (ED) in reviewing requests for ESEA waivers continued with the approval of a waiver for the Commonwealth of Virginia on June 29, 2012. After providing limited information regarding exactly how the state would set new annual measurable objectives (aka proficiency rates in reading and math) in its initial request, ED told Virginia to pony up more specifics if it wanted an OK. (See ED Letter Regarding Peer Review Feedback). Specifically, the feds told the state it had significant concerns with respect to Virginia’s lack of ambitious but achievable annual measureable objectives (AMO) that provide a meaningful incentive for schools to improve (page 2).
In response, Virginia cooked up a methodology for calculating new AMOs that it claims is based on current ESEA law, but different (huh?). It did not, however, provide a simulation of those AMOs – a picture of exactly how the methodology would play out – in its response to ED (and ED didn’t ask), leaving us waiver watchers to proclaim “Huh?” again. But not to worry. ED bought the proposal and gave Virginia’s plan its blessing. (See approval letter)
With waiver in hand, Virginia set out to calculate its new AMOs for the next 6 years, proudly announcing them to the state on July 24, 2012. (See VDOE announcement). Virginia can’t yet determine new AMOs for reading – since they’ll be based on the new reading assessments being administered this coming school year. That said, the new AMOs for math (below) paint a dismal picture for Virginia’s underachieving students – now assigned the pejorative moniker “Proficiency Gap Groups.”
(Click here to enlarge) (Note: Proficiency Gap Group 1 combines students with disabilities, ELL students, and economically disadvantaged students, with no student counting more than once even if the student belongs to more than one group)
For students with disabilities, expected proficiency rates rise from 33% to 49% and close the gap between themselves and all students by just 4 points over 6 years. If Virginia had selected another approach offered in the waivers, say, to “reduce by half the percentage of students in the all student group and in each subgroup who are not proficient within six years,” 67% of students with disabilities would be expected to be proficient in math in 2016-2017 instead of 49%. Now that’s a GAP.
Since Virginia didn’t provide these AMOs in its final waiver request, perhaps ED failed to get the full picture of just how the proposed methodology would play out. Or, maybe, they just chose to look the other way.
Yes, Virginia, you are a swing state.