Washington Lawmakers To Focus On Teacher Evaluation System in 2014

Washington lawmakers plan to focus on education and teacher evaluation systems during the legislative session starting in January 2014. The state is at risk of losing a waiver from the No Child Left Behind law if it fails to bring its teacher evaluation system up to federal standards, which helps to prioritize the issue.

According to standing Washington law, statewide test scores can be a factor in teacher evaluations. Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn said that the federal government wants the word “can” to be changed to “must” or Washington will not meet its requirements for a waiver from the federal education law, writes Donna Gordon Blankinship of The Associated Press.

Under the new teacher evaluation law, student growth data — test scores or other measures of student achievement over time — should be part of teacher evaluations, but it gives school districts some flexibility about where they choose to get that data.

Washington is one of a handful of states, including Oregon, Arizona and Kansas, in “high risk” of losing the waivers that have been granted to dozens of states. The waivers give states more flexibility to figure out how to boost education without meeting the 2014 deadlines under No Child Left Behind, which says every child in the nation would be reading and doing math at grade level by next year.

The Washington law was the result of negotiations between statewide education officials, lawmakers, and the Washington Education Association, state teachers union.

According to State Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Poulsbo, she does not agree that changing one word in state law will resolve the problem. She said it’s important to make the language workable for schools, many of which are already using the new teacher and principal evaluation system and are already using student growth data as an element in evaluating educators.

Lawmakers will need to be careful not to add new testing burdens on children, teachers or school districts, she said. “The less tinkering we can do while being compliant with federal rules the better off we will be,” Rolfes said.

In addition, the lawmakers will also focus on a request of $544 million for basic education to meet the requirements of the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision.

Deputy Superintendent Alan Burke, in a recent meeting of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, said the state’s districts are ahead of schedule in implementing the new law and so far all districts that have adopted a new teacher evaluation system have included student growth on statewide tests as a factor.

According to Burke, federal education officials have informed him that Washington is highly unlikely to get a waiver for the 2014-15 school year if they do not make a change to the evaluation law.

If Washington loses its waivers, nearly every school in the state will have to send a letter home to parents saying they are failing to meet the requirements of federal education law.

Rich Wood, spokesman for the Washington Education Association, said lawmakers should let school districts continue the good work they’re already doing to strengthen teacher and principal evaluations, and focus instead on dollars for education.