Answers to Teachers’ Questions About ESEA Flexibility (aka Waivers)

Teacher Question (TQ): What is ESEA Flexibility, what some are calling Waivers?
Answer: ESEA Flexibility is the opportunity for states to seek relief from some of the provisions of the No Child Left Behind law that aren’t working. Until Congress passes a law that fixes NCLB, states are being given the chance to request waivers of certain portions of the law. To qualify for flexibility, states must have plans in place to better prepare our children for college and careers.

TQ: Who can apply for ESEA Flexibility? My state? My school? My union?
A: The federal Elementary and Secondary Education law (now referred to as No Child Left Behind) gives states the responsibility for monitoring compliance with the law. Under the ESEA flexibility plan, only a state can apply. However, states will be creating flexibility plans on behalf of themselves and their districts. States will be encouraged to work closely with their districts to ensure a comprehensive plan that truly increases the quality of instruction and improves academic achievement for all students. Currently, more than 40 states have indicated their intent to request ESEA Flexibility.

TQ: Does ESEA Flexibility require states to make judgments and decisions about my teaching based on a single test?
A: No. Just as a good teacher would never assess a student one time to determine a grade, schools and districts must have multiple ways to assess a teacher’s effectiveness. Under the ESEA flexibility plan, states must use multiple measures of professional practice in teacher evaluation plans, such as portfolios, meaningful observations, peer reviews, parent and student surveys, or other locally developed instruments. The measures must include, as a significant factor, data on student growth. In some cases, this will be means data from state assessments).

TQ: Does testing change under ESEA Flexibility?
A: States will be required to continue measuring students’ achievement annually in at least reading/language arts and math, and to measure students’ achievement in science once in elementary school, once in middle school, and once in high school. However, rather than mandating that all students reach an arbitrary achievement bar on a low-quality test, the flexibility focuses on ensuring that all students are making progress by requiring higher-quality assessments that measure student growth and truly reflect whether or not a student is on track for success in college and a career.

TQ: What will ESEA Flexibility do to change the curricula that teachers use at my school?
A: No Child Left Behind created unintentional incentives for states to water down and narrow their curricula. ESEA Flexibility does not require states or districts to adopt specific standards or a particular curriculum, but it supports states and districts in moving towards higher standards and a meaningful, rigorous and well-rounded curriculum.

With more rigorous standards in place, students can expect more individualized instruction. Furthermore, ESEA Flexibility will promote a well-rounded curriculum by basing accountability decisions on student growth and progress in addition to other measures of student learning and school progress beyond traditional assessment results. States will be able to assess a school’s success by looking comprehensively at how schools are serving their schools and communities in areas like school climate, access to rigorous coursework, and providing a well-rounded education.

TQ: Does ESEA Flexibility mean that states are given a pass on accountability for closing the achievement gap?
A: No. Both the President and the Secretary of Education believe strongly that education is the civil rights issue of our generation. The Department of Education exists to ensure that every child has access to a quality education. States that do not demonstrate a commitment to closing achievement gaps will not be granted flexibility.


  1. “Just as a good teacher would never assess a student one time to determine a grade, schools and districts must have multiple ways…”

    I am bothered by this analogy. Teachers are not being assessed by the state’s high stakes test. The students are being assessed. It is not a valid measure of teacher ability to use student test scores to evaluate a teacher’s skills. Period. If you were giving a test to the teacher, this would be an apt analogy. The student is being assessed though. And you are mandating that the teacher be evaluated based on this.

    VAM has been shown to be riddled with error. How can you insist on measuring a teacher when 2/3rds will be misidentified using this? 1/3rd will be misidentified as good and 1/3rd will be misidentified as bad.

    I am in FL and have seen how each year, it becomes more and more about the test. Our kids are over tested and spend about 12 weeks a year in test prep. Literally. Here is the breakdown:
    1 week in Sept. for Palm Beach Writes diagnostic (prep for writing FCAT)
    1 week in Sept. for reading and math diagnostic (prep for FCAT reading and math)
    1 week in January for reading and math diagnostics (prep for FCAT reading and math)
    1 month (late Jan- mid Feb) of “boot camp” style – everything stops for FCAT practice/prep
    1 month off and on Feb- March of FCAT administration
    1 week in May for FCAT reading and math diagnostic

    You may think this is an exaggeration but literally- everything stops for this. Kids in grades not tested (K, 1st and 2nd) are not doing much either as they cannot make any noise during this time. So, they don’t get recess, electives, etc. No field trips are taken at any of these times. The actually testing isn’t all day but it messes up the whole day. Mostly they watch movies on the off times during the week. They don’t want to start a new lesson because they can’t follow it up.

    This is what is created with this much emphasis on the test. And evaluating teachers based on this will only make it worse.

    • From a mom who had four children in the Florida schools for ten years (just moved away 3 years ago): A RESOUNDING AMEN to everything you said. This same issue is rampant in every state we have lived in. Schools are so busy “teaching the test” and teachers are so busy in fear of their jobs complying with regulations about the tests that very little actual effective teaching can occur.

      Now, as an area manager for a non profit that provides services to these at risk kids and families in our school system, I see even more tragedy in relation to the problems that you so accurately outline. I have dealt with 5th graders who don’t even know that there are 12 months in a year, much less their multiplication tables or their basic addition facts. It is shockingly sad to me that they should ever progress to the 5th grade and not know the basic foundations that they need to continue to succeed in furthering their education and in an eventual effort to support themselves and experience positive growth in their general lives.

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