Big News in Massachusetts!

 Press Release

 For immediate release

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Contact: JC Considine 781-338-3112


Massachusetts Granted Flexibility from Portions of No Child Left Behind Act to Focus on Innovative Methods for Ensuring All Students Achieve at High Levels

State will build on nation-leading high standards and successful turnaround strategies; cut proficiency gaps by half by 2017

MALDEN – The U.S. Department of Education (ED) today announced that Massachusetts has been granted flexibility today from certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Massachusetts has an unparalleled commitment to high standards and the waiver granted today will allow the state to move away from the broken pieces of NCLB that are no longer useful in identifying schools and districts most in need of intervention, and focus efforts on those innovative strategies already in place for turning around underperforming schools that are proving effective. Massachusetts is one of ten states granted waivers today. The others are Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

“This waiver will allow us to move on from the broken pieces of No Child Left Behind and focus on true innovation to create a brighter future for our children,” said Governor Deval Patrick. “Massachusetts is already at the forefront of student achievement, and this decision by the Obama Administration gives us the flexibility we need to build on our success and lift all children up.”

“We are proud that Massachusetts is recognized as a national leader in student achievement,” said Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray. “This waiver will provide us with greater flexibility as we work towards closing the achievement gap and providing a high quality education for all students.”

The Commonwealth’s new state/federal accountability system is built on the Patrick-Murray Administration’s commitment to create a more unified accountability system, an intense focus on closing achievement gaps, a commitment to high standards and accountability and successful efforts to provide targeted assistance to underperforming schools. This system will measure progress toward the Administration’s goal of reducing proficiency gaps by half by 2017 and classify schools and districts in an accountability and assistance level designed to support schools where students are struggling the most.

“NCLB accountability requirements have rendered ‘perfect’ the enemy of ‘good,’” said Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester. “A school either made Adequate Yearly Progress or it didn’t – there was no middle ground. As a result, more than 80 percent of Massachusetts schools and 90 percent of districts were tagged as inadequate under NCLB, which flies in the face of common sense.”

“Our accountability plan sets a high bar while implementing targets around student performance and growth that are realistic and achievable,” said Chester. “Massachusetts has already adopted legislation that targets low performing schools and districts, rigorous standards for students to ensure readiness for college and careers and regulations to evaluate educators. This waiver will enable us to build on those key reforms by calling out and remediating performance gaps, incentivizing continuous improvement of schools and districts, rewarding strong performance, and aggressively intervening in the lowest performing schools and districts.”

“We are deeply committed to providing every child with the supports and resources they need to be successful,” said Massachusetts Education Secretary Paul Reville. “This waiver will remove barriers that stood in the way of our laser-like focus on students, educators, and schools that need our utmost attention to perform at their best.”

In September 2011, ED invited states to seek waivers from portions of NCLB to better focus on improving student learning and increasing the quality of instruction. The Commonwealth’s plan, approved today, will incorporate the state’s best indicators of progress toward college and career readiness, beginning with: (1) progress on gap-closing as measured by MCAS results in English language arts, mathematics, and science; (2) success in moving students out of lower levels of performance (Needs Improvement/Failing) and into higher levels (Advanced); (3) growth/improvement; and (4) graduation and dropout rates for high schools. The state will include data for the four most recent years, with the most recent years weighted most heavily. Targets will be differentiated for each school, district, and subgroup based on its starting point in 2010-11.

The state will report annual results for students in the aggregate, as well as results broken down by low income students, students with disabilities, English language learners, and the state’s major racial and ethnic subgroups. The state will also make determinations based on a new “high needs” subgroup composed of students who are low income, have a disability, or are English language learners or former English language learners. Building on the development of a five-level scale created by the Achievement Gap Act of 2010, the state will use an index to classify schools into Levels 1-5 as follows:

Level 1            On track to college and career readiness

Level 2            Not meeting gap closing goals

Level 3            Focus: Lowest performing 20% of schools (including schools with the largest gaps)

Level 4            Priority: Lowest performing schools

Level 5            Priority: Chronically underperforming schools

Districts will continue to be classified at the level of their lowest performing school, consistent with the state’s current school and district accountability and assistance framework. Data will also be used to identify and recognize high achieving and/or greatly improving schools, known as Commendation Schools.

Under NCLB’s original goal – 100 percent proficiency for all students by 2014 – rising federal targets resulted in far too many schools and districts being identified as in need of improvement to enable the state to effectively identify those in greatest need of assistance or intervention. In 2011, at the same time that Massachusetts 4th and 8th graders outscored their peers in the other 49 states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and mathematics for the fourth consecutive time, the federal metric identified 81 percent of Massachusetts schools and 90 percent of districts as not making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

Massachusetts’s waiver will help move away from a “one size fits all approach” under NCLB, and allow for differentiated supports and interventions to schools and districts. These tools will be available through a range of vehicles and will vary in scope to target particular areas that need strengthening. Massachusetts will no longer mandate NCLB school choice and supplemental educational services (SES). Instead, supports and interventions will include: expanding learning opportunities for struggling students, which may include tutoring and other supports offered through strategic partnerships; professional development that is embedded, sustained, and connected to educators’ needs; and other supports aligned to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s 11 Conditions for School Effectiveness, including those that address students’ social-emotional needs and family-school engagement.

For additional information on the state’s waiver request, visit the Department’s No Child Left Behind page at