NCLB Waivers for Three States in Jeopardy Over Teacher Evaluations

When Congress became too mired in partisan squabbles to pass a comprehensive education reform bill to replace the No Child Left Behind Act, the Department of Education began allowing states to opt out of some of the law’s more draconian provisions by granting them waivers in exchange for a plan to improve student achievement . So far more than 40 states and the District of Columbia have applied and received the waivers. But three of them – Kansas, Oregon and Washington – are now being warned that they’re in danger of not getting waivers renewed for the 2014-15 academic year.

In a letter to the education authorities in the three states, Deb Delisle, Assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Education, warns that the granted waivers have been placed on “high-risk status.” The waivers granted to Washington, Kansas and Oregon were conditional, meaning that the states needed to take additional steps to qualify for them.

In the case of Kansas, that additional step was adopting a teacher evaluation system that included an objective student performance metric. In the waiver application, Kansas laid out one such system along with two others that did not. However, according to Delisle, education officials didn’t pilot the system with student performance indicators, thus violating the conditions of the waiver.

Kansas’ teacher evaluation component is problematic, the letter says. “Although Kansas has provided a method for including student growth in these systems; it did not pilot this method for including student growth,” Delisle wrote.

Instead, she continues, the state convened a task force. “At this time, Kansas has not demonstrated that the method it has selected actually results in including student growth as a significant factor and that the system as proposed meaningfully differentiates among teachers.”

Reached in her office Thursday morning, Kansas’ schools commissioner Diane DeBacker said her staff had not yet gone over the letter, so she had no comment on its contents. She did, however, say that the waiver Kansas received last school year was extremely helpful.

A similar problem is also occurring in Oregon. According to Delisle, the state has not submitted the finalized version of an assessment system for instructors that contains student standardized test performance. Instead, Oregon officials said that they will keep experimenting with different approaches – something that Delisle considers to be out of compliance with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act under which the waivers are granted.

Washington got in trouble for changing its teacher evaluation law. On a call with reporters, a federal education department official said that Washington is not meeting the federal government’s definition of measuring student performance for teacher evaluations.

“In accordance with state law, a local educational agency (LEA) has discretion over whether or not to include data from statewide assessments in determining a teacher’s student growth rating,” Delisle wrote. Washington allows student growth to be measured by teams across classrooms — the official said the state needs to prove that the method doesn’t mask the performance of individual teachers.