Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Waiver

Last updated: August 2013

Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Flexibility Waiver Frequently Asked Questions for Families and Community Members

Section 1: General Questions

Section 2: Accountability Measurements

Section 3: Recognition, Accountability and Support

Section 4: Parent Engagement and Choice

Section 5: School and District Finances

Section 6: School and District Planning Activities

Section 7: Teacher Qualifications and Evaluations

General Questions

Q: What does the ESEA Flexibility Waiver mean for Minnesota?

A: The federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is the primary driver behind education systems across the country. The 2001 authorization of ESEA is called No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and since 2001, all states have been operating under the requirements outlined in this law. There has long been a consensus that many aspects of NCLB have not been effective in measuring or improving school effectiveness. The ESEA Flexibility Waiver (also known as “the waiver”) was an opportunity to gain greater flexibility in the way we measure schools for accountability and the way that schools, districts and the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) work to improve struggling schools.

Under the waiver, Minnesota has a new system of accountability for all schools. At the foundation of this system is a Multiple Measurements Rating (MMR) that replaces Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) as the primary measurement of school performance. The MMR looks at proficiency, growth, achievement gap reduction and graduation rates. Using the MMR, we will now identify schools for recognition, accountability and support by designating a percentage of Title I schools as Priority, Focus, Continuous Improvement, Celebration Eligible and Reward schools. Please see the NCLB Waiver Glossary for definitions of all these terms.

Q: How will tests change under the waiver?

A: Students are still required to take the same state tests, and nothing in the tests themselves is changed under the waiver. The only change is that test results are used in a different way for accountability purposes.

Q: How will the waiver affect the standards/expectations of a child’s academic achievements?

A: Nothing in the waiver changes the state’s rigorous academic standards in any way. The statewide standards remain in place. The state has only changed the way it measures schools’ ability to help students meet those standards, as Minnesota is now using the MMR to measure school performance.

Q: How long will the waiver be in effect?

A: The waiver is approved for two years, with an option to extend for a third year. Year one is the 2012-13 school year. However, if ESEA is reauthorized before the end of the waiver period, the reauthorized law would take precedence over the waiver. MDE has worked to ensure that the approved waiver is compatible with congressional reauthorization proposals.

Accountability Measurements

Q: How do schools get measured in the new accountability system?

A: All schools in the state are given an annual MMR and Focus Rating (FR), and schools and districts are still given an AYP determination each year as well. The MMR, a 0 to 100 percentage for all schools, is the primary measurement used for recognition, accountability and support in Minnesota. The FR is a secondary measurement for schools that sheds light on a school’s ability to close growth gaps and achievement gaps.

Q: What measurements are included in the MMR and FR?

A: The MMR includes data on all students in the school focused in four areas: proficiency, student growth, achievement gap reduction and graduation rates. The FR includes data on only students of color, students in poverty, special education students and English learners in two areas: proficiency and achievement gap reduction. Reading and math are the two subjects included the MMR and FR.

Q: When are the MMR and FR released?

A: In 2013, MMR and FR results as well as school designations will be reported on or around October 1. In future years, MMR, FR and the school designation lists will be released in the summer, around the same time that AYP has traditionally been released in late July or August.

Q: How is proficiency measured in the MMR?

A: In Minnesota, each student that takes a test is placed into one of the four categories based on their score: Does Not Meet Standards, Partially Meets Standards, Meets Standards or Exceeds Standards. In the proficiency domain of MMR, we look at the proficiency index rate by considering the number of students in the Partially Meets Standards, Meets Standards and Exceeds Standards groups. The school’s proficiency index rate is compared to a statewide established target, and a school’s goal is to meet or surpass the target. A target is set for each of the nine AYP groups: All students, American Indian, Asian, Hispanic, Black, White, English learners, special education and free/reduced price lunch. Schools should strive to have their proficiency index rate within each of those subgroups be higher than the target. A school can earn a possible 25 points in the proficiency domain of MMR, and points are earned based on the number of targets a school is able to meet in reading and math.

Q: How is growth measured in the MMR?

A: Using the Minnesota Growth Model, each student is given a growth score based on how their test score compares to their expected test score. All students have an expected score based on how the student scored in the prior year; thus, the goal is to have the student meet or exceed that expected score. Once each student gets their own growth score, all individual student reading and math growth scores are then averaged to generate a school growth score. A school can earn a possible 25 points in the growth domain of MMR, and the points earned are based on how successful a school is in accelerating student growth.

Q: How is achievement gap reduction measured in the MMR?

A: With the same individual student growth scores that are used in the growth domain, MDE measures the success schools have in getting higher rates of growth in the seven subgroups that are typically lower-performing. The seven subgroups include: Black, Asian, Hispanic, American Indian, Free and Reduced Price Lunch (FRP), Limited English Proficient (LEP), and Special Education. The growth of each of these groups at the school is compared to the statewide average growth for their counterparts. The four subgroups of students of color are compared to the statewide average for white students. The three other subgroups are compared to the statewide average growth for all students that are not in their subgroup (e.g., LEP students are compared to the statewide average of all non-LEP students). A school can earn a possible 25 points in the achievement gap reduction domain of MMR, and the points are earned based on how successful the school is in accelerating growth for these select groups of students in order to close achievement gaps.

Q: How is graduation rate measured in the MMR?

A: The graduation rate for all of the groups in a school with at least 40 students is compared to a 90 percent graduation rate target. The graduation rate target is 90 percent for students overall as well as for each subgroup. A school can demonstrate success in this MMR domain not only by meeting the 90 percent target but also by showing improvement from year to year. A school can earn a possible 25 points in the graduation rate domain of MMR, and the points are earned based on the school’s ability to meet the 90 percent target for groups or demonstrate an improvement in graduation rate over the prior year.

Q: How is the total MMR calculated?

A: A school’s MMR is computed by dividing the total number of points a school earned in all of the domains by the total number of points it could have possibly earned to generate a percentage. For most elementary and middle/junior high schools, there will be 75 possible points. For most high schools, there will be 100 possible points. For all schools, the MMR will be a 0-100 percentage.

Q: What is the Focus Rating (FR)?

A: The FR is focused on a school’s ability to close growth gaps and achievement gaps among typically lower-performing groups. The FR includes both proficiency and achievement gap reduction data on the following groups of students: American Indian, Asian, Hispanic, Black, special education, free/reduced price lunch and English learners. While the MMR has four measurements, the FR only has two domains: focused proficiency and achievement gap reduction. For all schools, there are 50 possible points in the FR.

Q: How does the performance of Minnesota students compare to that of other states, including the other states that have received waivers?

A: Minnesota will still be required to participate in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) which is given to students in every state in the country. The NAEP results allow the public to see how students from Minnesota compare to those in other states.

Recognition, Accountability and Support

Q: What types of schools are eligible for the school designations?

A: Only schools receiving federal Title I funds are eligible for the school designations (Priority, Focus, Continuous Improvement, Celebration Eligible and Reward). The only non-Title I schools that are eligible for designation are those current SIG schools that are not Title I schools.

Q: When does MDE release the lists of schools?

A: The Continuous Improvement, Celebration Eligible and Reward school lists are released on an annual basis along with the MMR data. Priority and Focus schools are designated every three years; thus, the schools that were designated as Priority or Focus in spring 2012 will remain in that status unless they meet exit criteria.

Q: How many schools fall into each of the new school designations?

A: The bottom five percent of Title I schools (approximately 42 schools) are identified as Priority Schools. Ten percent of Title I schools (approximately 85 schools) are identified as Focus Schools because they are making the largest contributions to the state’s achievement gap. The top 15 percent of Title I schools (approximately 125 schools) are identified as Reward Schools. An additional 25 percent of high-performing Title I schools (approximately 210 schools) receive the Celebration Eligible status, with 10 percent of Title I schools (approximately 85 schools) being designated Celebration Schools. The bottom 25 percent of schools (approximately 210 schools) that are not already identified as Priority or Focus are designated as Continuous Improvement Schools.

Q: What are Priority Schools required to do for improvement?

A: Priority Schools are required to work collaboratively with parents, their communities, their districts, Regional Centers of Excellence and MDE to develop turnaround plans. This plan has to adhere to Turnaround Principles set by the US Department of Education (these Principles are outlined in the NCLB Waiver Glossary) and responds to the specific needs of the students in the school. Priority Schools maintain their status and continue working on their turnaround plans for three years unless they meet exit criteria. Priority Schools are required to set aside the equivalent of 20 percent of their Title I funds for activities related to their turnaround plan.

Q: What are Focus Schools required to do for improvement?

A: Focus Schools are required to work collaboratively with parents, their communities, their districts, Regional Centers of Excellence and MDE to develop school improvement plans aimed at improving the performance of their low-performing student subgroups. This plan is to be locally tailored by the school and district with technical assistance and strategic support from Regional Centers of Excellence and MDE. Focus Schools maintain their status and continue working on their improvement plans for three years unless they meet exit criteria. Focus Schools are required to set aside the equivalent of 20 percent of their Title I funds for activities related to their turnaround plan.

Q: What are Continuous Improvement Schools required to do for improvement?

A: Continuous Improvement Schools are required to work collaboratively with parents, their communities and their districts to develop school improvement plans. Regional Centers of Excellence and MDE are available for technical assistance and strategic support in this process. These school improvement plans are not submitted to or approved by MDE. Instead, districts are charged with implementing the plans within Continuous Improvement Schools. MDE audits 10 percent of Continuous Improvement Schools annually to ensure fidelity with the improvement planning process.

Q: Do Reward Schools receive recognition?

A: Currently, the only remuneration for Reward Schools is public recognition for their success. MDE is exploring the possibility of repurposing federal funds or securing funds from external partners to provide financial incentives to Reward Schools willing to partner with low-performing schools to share best practices.

Q: How does a school become a Celebration School and what is the recognition for that status?

A: Schools between the 60th and 86th percentile on the MMR are Celebration Eligible and may apply to MDE to become a Celebration School. These applications can include qualitative factors that go beyond assessment and graduation rates to explain why a school is deserving of recognition. MDE selects the equivalent of approximately 10 percent of Title I schools as Celebration Schools based on the quality of the applications. The primary reward for Celebration Schools is public recognition.

Q: How does the new system affect non-Title I schools?

A: As with the previous system, all schools, regardless of Title I status, are measured for accountability. Every school continues to receive an AYP determination, and every school now gets an MMR as well. However, the new school designations (Reward, Celebration Eligible, Focus, Priority and Continuous Improvement) will only apply to Title I schools.

Q: What are the district accountability provisions in the waiver?

A: The MMR and the new accountability designations are directed exclusively at schools. However, districts continue to receive annual AYP determinations, but there are no consequences or financial requirements for districts that are not making AYP. Additionally, districts with Priority and Focus Schools are required to complete a district-wide needs assessment to assess and improve their capacity for improving identified schools. If districts fail to effectively implement turnaround or improvement plans in identified schools, and exhibit persistently low performance at the district level, the district could be subject to restrictions on their Title I funding.

Q: How are SIG schools included in the accountability system?

A: Schools receiving federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) funds and implementing one of the SIG intervention models are also designated as Priority schools. SIG schools are required to comply with all requirements of Priority schools as well as the separate expectations of the federal SIG program.

Parent Engagement and Choice

Q: What are the parent notification requirements for identified schools?

A: Priority, Focus and Continuous Improvement schools are required to notify parents of their status upon identification and in each subsequent year until they exit their status. This notification must invite parents to participate in the school’s turnaround or improvement activities and provide opportunities to engage in the process.

Q: What are the roles of parents and communities in school improvement planning?

A: Parents and communities are crucial to the school improvement or school turnaround process. The new system of school support envisions parents and communities taking a greater role in guiding the school improvement and turnaround planning and engaging in the implementation process. District and building leadership teams should include a parent membership. Priority and Focus Schools are required to develop a comprehensive parent and community engagement plan as part of their turnaround or improvement plan, developed in consultation with parent stakeholders representing the building and the district. Continuous Improvement Schools are required to notify parents of their status and invite them to be involved in school improvement planning and implementation. Just as importantly, the MMR provides parents and communities with more information than ever before, with which the goal is to spur greater involvement in the improvement of all schools, not just those identified as Priority, Focus or Continuous Improvement.

Q: ESEA Section 1116(b)(13), which requires the district to permit a child who has transferred to remain in the choice school through the highest grade in the school, does not appear to be waived. Do districts need to continue to provide transportation for these students in future years?

A: The section was not waived so as to allow states and districts that elect to provide that transportation to do so with Title I funding. Districts should work with parents of students that changed schools through the former school choice requirements to determine whether funding for that transportation will continue in future years. After the 2011-2012 school year, districts are not required to fund the transportation of those students to schools other than their “home” school.

Q: Is Supplemental Educational Services (SES) now optional for districts?

A: Beginning in the 2012-13 school year, Supplemental Educational Services (SES) is no longer required for any schools or districts. Under No Child Left Behind, schools that failed to make AYP for a certain number of years were required to offer SES, which typically takes the form of after-school tutoring. This requirement has been waived. Districts may choose to offer SES to students, and would contract out with any external providers they choose. There is no longer a list of state-approved SES providers.

School and District Finances

Q: Is there additional funding for Priority, Focus and Continuous Improvement Schools?

A: Beyond the newly increased flexibility and release of formerly set-aside funds, Priority, Focus and Continuous Improvement Schools continue to receive the same amount of funding. There is no new funding attached to the waiver, but it does allow the state, districts and schools to use their existing funds more flexibly and effectively.

Q: Are there any mandated parameters around how Title I funds are used in either Priority or Focus Schools?

A: Priority, Focus and Continuous Improvement schools are required to set aside the equivalent of 20 percent of their Title I funds for activities related to their turnaround or school improvement plan. MDE and the Regional Centers of Excellence work with Priority, Focus and Continuous Improvement schools to determine which activities are allowable for this set-aside.

Q: Is the 10 percent staff development set-aside still in place for districts and schools?

A: There are no longer any mandatory set-asides for staff development. Districts may still spend Title I funds on staff development but it is not required. High quality staff development would be an allowable use of a Priority or Focus School’s 20 percent set-aside.

Q: What are the fiscal implications of the waiver for nonpublic schools?

A: Nonpublic schools should be largely unaffected by the waiver. Nonpublic schools that receive Title I funds could see their funding increase as district-level set-asides (which were not distributed equitably to nonpublic schools) are eliminated and that funding rolls back into general Title I budgets. There are no circumstances under which the formula for Title I funding is altered to reduce funding for nonpublic schools.

School and District Planning Activities

Q: What are Regional Centers of Excellence and what role do they play in the new system?

A: Under the past model, there were eight education service regions to provide support to schools not making AYP. The new waiver provisions have created a need for MDE to reevaluate this model so as to provide better services to schools and districts, particularly to Priority and Focus Schools. The new models for service providers are called the Regional Centers of Excellence. The new Regional Centers provide a focused and consistent delivery of school improvement services across the state. Data analysis, standards, reading, math, English language development, special education and instructional leadership will be the focus of services and supports. The range of services and supports may include web-based resources and tools, as well as guided facilitation and technical assistance.

Q: Are there still district improvement plans?

A: MDE encourages all districts to continue looking at ways to improve, but there is no longer a requirement for districts to write and submit a district improvement plan on the basis of AYP or MMR results.

Q: How does the more flexible school improvement planning impact goals for Q Comp, literacy aid and other state programs?

A: Nothing in the waiver exempts schools or districts from the requirements of state programs such as Q Comp and the new required literacy planning.

Teacher Qualifications and Evaluations

Q: Do the requirements for Highly Qualified Teachers (HQT) remain in place?

A: Under the waiver, a district is not required to develop an improvement plan or restrict the use of federal funds pursuant to such a plan. Additionally, MDE is not required to enter into the agreement required by ESEA section 2141(c) with a district. Districts are not restricted in their use of Title I, Part A funds for paraprofessionals, but still must comply with the requirements with respect to paraprofessionals in ESEA section 1119(c) through (g). The basic highly qualified teacher requirements of ESEA remain in place. Also, there is still a requirement in place to ensure that poor and minority children are not taught at higher rates than other children by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers.

Q: Is the waiver at all tied to teacher evaluation?

A: The waiver is only indirectly tied to teacher and principal evaluation. One of the US Department of Education requirements for receiving the waiver was to have these systems in place or in development, a requirement that Minnesota was able to meet due to the legislative action taken on this issue in 2011. Nothing in the waiver changes the state’s statutory requirements for evaluation systems.