Oklahoma Achieves Flexibility from No Child Left Behind: New Waiver Provides Added Urgency to Implementation of State Reforms


Oklahoma is one of the first states in the nation to gain flexibility from federal restrictions under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), providing the state with an opportunity to move forward quickly with its own reforms.

“This is a game changer,” said State Superintendent Janet Barresi. “We now have added urgency to press ahead with implementation of reforms and a chance to help schools in our state improve. Having this flexibility will empower Oklahoma teachers to focus on each individual student and their growth. No Child Left Behind was a positive bipartisan reform that brought focus to accountability and rigor, and now it’s time to take the next step. With today’s announcement, no longer will schools in Oklahoma struggle to meet artificial goals. Instead we can focus on effective instruction in the classroom.”

Governor Mary Fallin said, “More flexibility to pursue Oklahoma-based education reforms is a good thing for the state, our teachers and most importantly our students. Acquiring a No Child Left Behind waiver allows our schools to more accurately measure progress in student achievement without a rigid federal formula. The results will be a more dynamic learning environment for our children.

“Moving forward, accountability, transparency and a commitment to improving student achievement remain as important as ever. Oklahoma passed several landmark education reforms last year, and we expect those improvements to our educational system to continue to improve the quality of our schools, raise performance levels among students and ultimately lead to a better educated and more highly skilled workforce.” 

Earlier today, President Barack Obama with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the first group of states to achieve “waivers” from No Child Left Behind, the omnibus federal law overseeing funding of primary and secondary education as well as requirements for standardized testing and school performance. Other states to receive waivers are Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Tennessee. New Mexico is working with administration to get approval.

Secretary Duncan has said that flexibility is being offered to states from NCLB in exchange for comprehensive plans to raise standards; to create fair, flexible and focused accountability systems; and to improve systems for teacher and principal evaluation and support — all components of Oklahoma’s plan.

“This flexibility will not give states a pass on accountability. It will demand real reform,” Duncan has written.

Oklahoma’s plan for flexibility is not a step back from reform but a bold move forward, Superintendent Barresi said. She emphasized the need to support efforts in Congress to reauthorize NCLB.

She said Oklahoma now will move quickly to implement the C3 Plan to ensure students in the state are college, career and citizen ready by the time they graduate. The C3 Plan incorporates the sweeping suite of education reforms passed by the state Legislature and signed into law by Governor Mary Fallin in 2011.

“Our overall strategy will ensure each student graduating with a diploma from an Oklahoma public school will be ready for college or career without the need for remediation and will be citizen ready, meaning they will know something about our government and the history of our nation,” Barresi said.

Also today, John Kline, chairman of the U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee is introducing his new bill on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Barresi said she supports Congress’ and Chairman Kline’s efforts to reauthorize NCLB, and looks forward to supporting the reauthorization.

“But, for now, we hope that Oklahoma’s model serves to support schools with more flexibility to enact reforms,” Barresi said.

Implementation of the waiver will rely on several major reforms:

An Effective Teacher in Every Classroom, An Effective Leader in Every School - Under Oklahoma’s Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Evaluation system, approved recently by the State Board of Education, districts can choose among several options approved by the state. At the end of the first pilot year, the state will evaluate the effectiveness of each system and gather critical feedback from teachers and principals as they utilize the system in their individual schools. “These systems will help us recognize the state’s best teachers and identify those who need more help,” Barresi said. “Our goal is to have an effective teacher in every classroom and an effective administrator in every school.”

Rewarding success and fostering improvement – Under the proposal, the state will identify Reward schools, the highest performing of all schools in the state, giving those schools credit for innovative practices and models as well as improvement. At the same time, the state will work to boost student achievement in lower-performing schools. This will include identifying Priority Schools, the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools, based on proficiency and lack of progress in the “all students” group. These schools will have to prove they have the capacity to improve and could also be the subject of significant state management assistance. The plan also includes a focus on Targeted Intervention Schools, the bottom 25 percent of the state in achievement, and Focus Schools, those with poor performance in one or more specific student sub-groups.

3rd Grade Graduation - The state will continue working to implement new third-grade graduation requirements, focusing on assisting teachers in the use of optimal strategies to help children learn to read. Under the new law, students who aren’t reading on grade level won’t be promoted to the 4th grade beginning in the 2013-14 school year.

A-F Performance Grades for Schools - This year, Oklahoma will put into place a new A through F grading system for every school in the state.  The new system will help parents and community members better understand how their school is performing by assigning a clear-cut letter grade.

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Last updated on February 9, 2012