Politics & Government

Lawmakers aim to regain state’s No Child Left Behind waiver

State lawmakers are renewing their attempts to change the state’s teacher evaluation system, a move they say would help Washington regain its waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Last year, Washington became the first state in the nation to lose its exemption from parts of the federal education accountability law.

Loss of that waiver meant school districts in Washington lost control over how they could spend about $38 million in federal Title I grant money in the 2014-15 school year, and were directed to spend the money on tutoring programs instead of other measures to help low-income students.

Many districts statewide also had to send parents letters telling them their students’ schools were failing.

The U.S. Department of Education said it revoked Washington’s waiver because the state didn’t require student scores on statewide tests to be used as one factor in evaluating teachers and principals.

Right now, school districts can choose which test scores they will use in evaluations, with the option available for districts to use data from locally developed tests only.

Bills heard before a Senate education panel Tuesday would change that, making it so that statewide testing data become mandatory parts of teacher and principal evaluations.

Both Senate Bill 5748 and Senate Bill 5749 would delay the use of teacher and principal evaluations in school personnel decisions until the 2016-17 school year.

The state teachers union, the Washington Education Association, is opposing both bills. The union also opposed attempts to change teacher evaluations last year.

“I don’t want my value as an educator to be determined by a test that cannot possibly determine how hard I have worked, how hard my students have worked, and the challenges we face every day,” said Victoria Mann, a teacher from Mercer Island, before the Senate committee Tuesday.

Meanwhile, education reform advocates and the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction support the use of state testing data in evaluations. They said even with the proposed changes, student scores on standardized tests would still be only a small part of the information school districts use to evaluate teachers and principals.

Cary Evans, lobbyist for the education reform group Stand for Children, said there is public support for using standardized test scores in teacher evaluations. More than 17,000 people have signed a Stand for Children petition asking the Legislature to change the law, he told committee members, while a poll commissioned by the group found that more than 70 percent of voters sampled thought the Legislature should have worked to keep the state’s waiver.

Evans said the state needs to act now to help districts regain control over their federal grant money, rather than waiting for Congress to update the No Child Left Behind Act.

“It needs fixing. But please do not wait for Washington, D.C., to fix this bill,” Evans said. “It might be six months, or it might be six years.”