The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Flexibility Waiver Renewal

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
January 16, 2015

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) is offering states the opportunity to apply for a three-year renewal of our Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) flexibility waiver. At the special meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Monday evening, January 26, 2015, I will describe the federal requirements for flexibility waivers, review the basic components of our school and district accountability system as approved under our flexibility waiver, and explain the rationale, process, and timeline for submitting a renewal request.


The ESEA flexibility waiver Massachusetts received in February 2012 has provided us the opportunity to implement a unitary accountability system that maintains our state's high standards and expectations and meets both federal and state requirements. Prior to receiving this flexibility, we assessed the Commonwealth's schools and districts on two separate sets of metrics, and we issued separate reports for the state's five-level framework for accountability and assistance and for the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The central NCLB metric - Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP - was a measure that had lost its credibility as approximately 80 percent of Massachusetts's schools and 90 percent of districts were judged inadequate under AYP.

The 2012-13 school year marked the first year of our implementation of a unitary, five-level system for classifying districts and schools that targets supports toward the state's lowest performing schools and districts. An additional feature of our waiver is to provide districts with greater flexibility over the expenditure of federal Title I funds.

In addition to modifying our school and district accountability system, through the waiver Massachusetts committed to adopt and implement college and career ready standards, assessments based on those standards, and an educator evaluation system that incorporates a measure of educator impact on student learning. These requirements, which ED established for initial waiver applications from states and which continue to apply as states plan to renew their waivers, align with statewide reform efforts that we began prior to the initial waiver opportunity in 2011-12.

Our ESEA flexibility waiver was originally approved through the 2013-14 school year. Last year ED provided states the opportunity to request a one-year waiver extension. We applied, and our waiver was extended through the end of the current 2014-15 school year.

Waiver Renewal

This past fall ED outlined a process for Massachusetts and other states to request a three-year renewal of flexibility waivers, through the 2017-18 school year. Applications are due to ED by March 31, 2015, and I plan to submit our state's renewal request by that date.

The unitary accountability system we have been able to implement under our flexibility waiver establishes a critical framework for the Board's and the Department's work, allowing us to expand our approach to assistance and support, call out and remedy performance gaps, expect continuous improvement of schools and districts, reward strong performance, and aggressively intervene in low-performing schools and districts. Without Congressional reauthorization of ESEA, upon expiration of our waiver our schools and districts would be forced to return to the requirements of AYP and NCLB. Renewing our waiver would avoid such an unnecessary disruption.

This winter our staff has begun to work collectively with various stakeholders to review implementation of our accountability and assistance system under the waiver and identify potential areas for improvement in the design of the system. Given the Board's planned decision in fall 2015 regarding our statewide assessments and the possibility of the new Congress reauthorizing the ESEA, we do not anticipate proposing fundamental changes to our approved plans through this renewal. However, the renewal process provides us a chance to carefully reflect on current implementation and, as appropriate, propose enhancements that are likely to lead to improved student outcomes. I anticipate sharing any proposed enhancements with you at the February and March Board meetings. Reauthorization of ESEA

As Congress gets underway, there is considerable energy being expended on securing reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which was last reauthorized as the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001. Should ESEA be reauthorized, we will evaluate the Commonwealth's accountability and assistance program in light of the new federal requirements.

Deputy Commissioner Alan Ingram, Senior Associate Commissioner Russell Johnston, Associate Commissioner Carrie Conaway, Rob Curtin, Director of our Education Data Services office, and Matt Pakos, Director of our Title I office, will be at the special meeting on January 26 to present the overview and respond to your questions.