U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued a letter Sept. 30, 2013, approving Texas' ESEA/NCLB waiver request for the 2013-14 school year. The waiver brings Texas schools some short-term relief from some federal regulations, but as a result of the negotiations TEA conducted with the USDE to secure the waiver, it comes with a condition. Any extension of the waiver is contingent upon Texas finalizing troublesome guidelines for teacher and principal evaluation and support systems based on student test data.

"To request approval to implement these waivers beyond the 2013–2014 school year, Texas must submit to the Department for review and approval, by May 2, 2014, an amended request incorporating final guidelines for teacher and principal evaluation and support systems that meet the requirements of ESEA flexibility, including the use of student growth, as defined in ESEA Flexibility, as a significant factor in determining a teacher’s or principal’s summative evaluation rating," Duncan wrote in the official approval letter.

According to TEA, the agency will use its "stakeholder input process" during the next year to determine which of the following methods is the most appropriate measure for utilizing student growth as a significant measure in evaluations:

  • minimum percentage weighting of 20 percent based on statewide assessments in tested grades and subjects (other measures can be added on top of the 20 percent)
  • student growth matrix that is based on statewide assessments in tested grades and subjects (other measures may be added in addition to the matrix)
  • the trigger method whereby teachers and principals who do not achieve a minimum student growth amount cannot be rated as “effective” or higher and for tested grades and subjects (the minimum student growth measure must be based on statewide assessments)

As quoted in the press, TCTA’s reaction to the waiver being granted under the condition that teacher evaluations be tied to student test scores was that: “The pursuit of this conditional waiver is an unfortunate about-face by Texas in agreeing to many of the same requirements that were in the federal Race to the Top grant program, in which Texas declined to participate."

If Texas does not submit final guidelines for teacher and principal evaluation and support systems that meet the requirements of ESEA flexibility by May 2, 2014, the waiver will expire at the end of the 2013–14 school year, and Texas and its schools will be required to immediately resume complying with all ESEA requirements.

Read more about the new teacher evaluation system and its implementation timeline.

What the waiver does in 2013-14

Under the waiver, Texas schools will not have to meet 2014 Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements, which are that 90 percent of students in each school and district must pass the state's standardized tests in reading and math. (Without the waiver, an estimated 95 percent of Texas school districts would not have met 2014 AYP requirements.)

Rather than federal AYP designations for all schools in Texas, the lowest performing 15 percent of schools will be identified as Priority or Focus Schools. Those schools will be subject to a series of federally prescribed interventions.

Additionally, Texas school districts will no longer be required to set aside 20 percent of their Title I federal dollars to provide Supplemental Educational Services (SES). A district will be able to use those funds in 2013-14 on academic intervention programs it deems most effective for its students.