Oct. 7, 2015
on State’s ESEA Waiver
On Sept. 29, 2015, I was notified
by the U.S. Department of Education that the department had approved the
state’s request for renewal of flexibility from specific provisions of the
Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – also known as the No Child Left
Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 – through the end of the 2015-2016 school year.
While that news of the
waiver approval was welcomed, federal officials also stated that Texas must
meet specific conditions to continue ESEA flexibility beyond the 2015-2016
school year. In short, Texas received an ESEA waiver through the 2015-2016
school year, but the state has been placed on “high-risk status.” ESEA
flexibility beyond this school year will be dependent on the state meeting
specific conditions that would require statewide use of specific teacher and
principal evaluation and support systems, as well as utilizing them to make personnel
decisions at the local level.
officials have given the state until Jan. 15, 2016 to meet certain conditions
or the waiver will be pulled and sanctions will apply beginning in the
2016-2017 school year. Among the conditions federal officials are requiring
Texas to meet:
- Texas must
demonstrate how the state will ensure all school districts and charters implement
teacher and principal evaluation and support systems that meet ESEA
requirements, including the use of growth in student learning as a significant
factor, based solely on student test scores.
education officials also seek a statewide approach to measuring growth in
student learning based on state assessments for those teachers of tested grades
- Finally, the
U.S. Department of Education expects Texas districts and charters to utilize
those teacher and principal evaluations for personnel decisions beginning in
Please know that throughout
the waiver application process, I have made it clear to federal officials that I do not have, nor will
I ever seek, the authority to compel local school districts to use any teacher
and principal evaluation system statewide. Our state believes strongly in local
control of our schools. As a result, Texas Education Agency staff will continue
discussing this specific point with the U.S. Department of Education, but they
should not expect any shift in our position.
It should be noted that Texas
and South Dakota are the only states in the current round of renewals granted a
federal waiver with a “high-risk” designation. Interestingly, both states have
been designated as “high-risk” for similar reasons related to teacher and
Federal officials have
provided an avenue for Texas to seek reconsideration of our “high-risk” status.
We will do so by the Oct. 9 deadline. However, we have not been provided any
timeline on how long the reconsideration process will take or how soon a
decision would be made.
The State of Texas secured
its conditional waiver from the U.S. Department of Education in 2013, giving
the Texas Education Agency and more than 1,200 school districts and charters
relief from certain ESEA provisions. The decision to seek a waiver was among my
first acts as Commissioner, a decision made after seeking input from
superintendents across the state.
I know we are all
following the reports out of Washington D.C. regarding potential ESEA
reauthorization. If accomplished, reauthorization would likely have a
tremendous impact on the expectations for the state, as well as every local
school district and charter. While Texas Education Agency staff and I continue
to provide input to our state’s congressional delegation, I will not make any
predictions on the eventual outcome.
current ESEA requirements would remain in place. As a result, you should be
aware that loss of our state’s ESEA waiver would carry some potential
consequences for every school district and charter in Texas.
- Texas schools labeled as “Failing” under
Under NCLB (after
2014), the law requires that all students are proficient (or simply put, 100
percent of students meet the standard). That means every student must be able
to perform at grade level in English language arts and mathematics.
- Prescriptive consequences for failing
Under NCLB, there is a
series of increasingly severe consequences (described below) that impact
failing schools. These consequences prescribed by the federal government will
leave states with less discretion to work with schools to determine the
appropriate interventions based on the specific needs of each campus.
Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) ratings would be retroactively assigned to all
campuses using their previous status, which would possibly place all Texas
campuses, at a minimum, in Stage 2 of AYP. Federal Stage 2 requirements would
schools provide parental notification and school choice options, as well as
develop and implement an intervention plan.
return of Supplemental Education Services (SES) requirements, meaning all
districts would be required to set aside 20 percent of Title I funds for this
support for low-performing campuses would be reduced. Current school
improvement fund dollars currently targeted at priority and focus campuses
would have to be distributed to all low-performing campuses.
potential consequences outlined above apply to Stage 2 of AYP. More
prescriptive federal interventions would be required under Stage 3, 4 or 5.
Based on the best information available, I would expect that a school that had
missed AYP prior to the state receiving the waiver would resume graduated
sanctions based on that prior stage. For example, a school that was Stage 2 in
2011-12 that then missed AYP in 2016-17 would then be considered Stage 3. Other
than the consequences above, I have no reason to believe that the state or its
schools would be at risk for losing any federal Title I money.
Separate from the waiver
process, the Texas Education Agency will continue its work with Texas schools,
districts and regional Education Service Centers to develop new teacher and
principal evaluation and support systems. The new Texas Teacher Evaluation and
Support System (T-TESS) and the Texas Principal Evaluation Support System
(T-PESS) are on schedule to be offered as resources designed to improve
instruction and campus leadership. During
the 2014-2015 school year, we piloted these systems in 64 school districts and
430 campuses across the state. As part of the refinement phase, 256
districts and approximately 2,000 campuses statewide are implementing the
systems this school year.
Statewide rollout of our
new state-approved appraisal system will occur in 2016-2017, but will not be
mandatory. I believe a majority of our school districts, representing roughly
85 percent of the state’s student population, will utilize these new appraisal
systems. However, that choice will be made at the local level, not by the
I will continue to provide
you with updates on this issue throughout the process. It is important that we
are all aware of the potential implications. As always, I welcome your input as
we move forward in working to secure the state’s ESEA waiver beyond this school
To view all materials
related to the state’s waiver request (including the Sept. 29th
letter from the U.S. Department of Education), I encourage you to visit the
Texas Education Agency website at http://tea.texas.gov/Texas_Schools/Waivers/NCLB-ESEA_Waiver_Information/.
Commissioner of Education