Barresi welcomes restoration of federal education waiver allowing curriculum flexibility
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Published: 25-Nov-2014

OKLAHOMA CITY – The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) announced Monday (November 24) it is reinstating Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Flexibility Waiver for the 2014-15 school year. Although the waiver had been pulled after state lawmakers repealed Common Core academic standards deemed college- and career-ready, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan reconsidered that earlier decision after Oklahoma higher education officials determined the state’s existing academic standards were sufficient.

“On behalf of Oklahoma educators, parents, students, lawmakers and all Oklahomans invested in better schools, we are grateful for this decision to reinstate the state’s flexibility waiver,” said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi.

“The ramifications of losing the waiver would have been significant and with potentially disastrous consequences. Instead, Oklahoma now has an opportunity to build upon the innovations and successful reforms of recent years.”

On Aug. 28, the USDE told the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) that Oklahoma was losing the waiver that provides the state and school districts with relief from 13 federal regulations and flexibility in spending Title I funds. Federal officials indicated they were impressed by how many Oklahoma schools had improved under the waiver, but an obstacle remained. The USDE requires all states applying for waivers to use English language arts and mathematics standards aligned with college- and career-ready guidelines, and the Common Core repeal made that problematic.

Federal officials indicated at that time that the state could reapply for a waiver to take effect in the 2015-16 school year.

OSDE requested immediate reinstatement of the waiver, however, after the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education concluded Oct. 16 that existing Priority Academic Student Skills, or PASS, standards for English and math are college- and career-ready.

In addition to that development, OSDE pointed to significant progress made under its school improvement program, with 51 out of 175 Priority schools improving their letter grade this school year, and more than 100 Targeted Intervention schools raising their grade. Priority and Targeted Intervention schools are schools that need the most intensive help in raising student achievement.

In a letter today, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Deborah Delisle praised Oklahoma for education reforms made in an effort to strengthen rigor and improve academic performance.

“I am confident that Oklahoma will continue to implement the reforms described in its approved ESEA flexibility request and advance its efforts to hold schools and school districts accountable for the achievement of all students,” she wrote.

As state leaders look ahead to the spring of 2015 and the likelihood of requesting another NCLB Flexibility Waiver, Supt. Barresi said it is critical that Oklahoma remains committed to reforms that will spur academic achievement.

“While the USDE decision certainly allows districts and schools to breathe a little easier, this reinstatement cannot be misinterpreted as a concession to low expectations,” she said. “Oklahoma should forge ahead with creating stronger academic standards and shoring up a system of true accountability.”

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