Teacher evaluation process unchanged

Staff writerMarch 14, 2014 

Washington lawmakers adjourned Thursday without changing the state’s teacher evaluation system, which probably means Washington will lose its waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act, education leaders said.

With the failure of legislation to address the waiver issue, “We have to assume the waiver is gone next year,” said Alan Burke, deputy superintendent of K-12 education for the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

That would mean that, starting in 2014-2015, school districts throughout the state would lose control over roughly $38 million in Title I money designed to help low-income students.

Loss of the waiver would also mean districts throughout the state would have to redirect an additional $19 million in Title I money toward professional development and teacher training, according to OSPI.

“It’s going to result in the loss of programs for our students who are the most in need,” said Sen. Bruce Dammeier, a Puyallup Republican who supported changing the teacher-evaluation system to keep the state’s waiver.

The U.S. Department of Education told Washington leaders in August that the state’s waiver would be at risk unless lawmakers moved to mandate the use of statewide tests in teacher evaluations.

Schools today may use solely local tests to measure student growth when evaluating teachers and principals — a standard the federal government has deemed unacceptable.

But several lawmakers said they didn’t want to interfere with the state’s new teacher and principal evaluation system — which is being used for the first time this year — just to meet federal demands.

“Of course I am concerned from the perspective of a local district,” said state Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, a Seattle Democrat who chairs the House Education Committee.

“Yet I am concerned on the other hand that we (would) establish bad policy for the entire state of Washington.”

The state is moving to a new type of assessment based on the Common Core standards next year. Santos said it would be unfair to judge teachers using those tests because they are not yet proven in terms of their “validity and reliability.”

The state teachers union also has been fighting the proposed changes to teacher evaluations, with many teachers saying they don’t want to be evaluated based on the new statewide tests.

“A single test does not measure student growth, which every teacher knows,” said Rich Wood, a spokesman for the Washington Education Association.

Burke, the OSPI deputy superintendent, said that OSPI will now seek a formal answer from the federal government about whether Washington will keep its waiver for the coming school year, but he expects the answer to be no.

School districts must prepare for the likelihood of the state losing its waiver and the budgetary complications that raises, Burke said.

“If they want to maintain programs, they’re going to have to have to find other sources of money to do that,” Burke said.

In Tacoma Public Schools, about $2 million in Title I money would have to be redirected if the state waiver is lost, said district spokesman Dan Voelpel. That will make it harder for the district to develop its budget this summer, he said in an email.

Additionally, without the waiver most parents this fall will receive notices that their school or school district isn’t meeting standards.

Because Washington hasn’t been able to live up to the achievement standards of No Child Left Behind, every district in the state — excluding those with fewer than 500 students — would need to send letters home to parents notifying them that the district is failing, said JoLynn Berge, OSPI’s chief financial officer.

Dammeier, who is the vice chairman of the Senate’s education committee, said that’s an outcome he and other lawmakers had been hoping to avoid.

“That does a tremendous disservice to the good work of many of our teachers and staff,” Dammeier said.

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