Politics & Government

WA Senate passes measure aimed at regaining No Child Left Behind waiver

Washington may be one step closer to regaining its waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The state Senate passed a measure Wednesday that would require student scores on statewide standardized tests to play a role in teacher and principal evaluations.

The legislation, Senate Bill 5748, would let local school districts and their teacher unions negotiate how the standardized test scores are used in evaluations and how much weight they would be given.

The measure passed the Senate on a 26-23 vote.

Last year, Washington became the first state in the nation to lose its exemption from the No Child Left Behind Act after the Legislature failed to approve a similar measure.

Under current state law, districts in Washington must consider student growth in evaluating the performance of teachers and principals, but the districts can draw that growth data from local or district-based tests. The U.S. Department of Education said districts must use statewide standardized testing data when it is available.

Without the federal waiver, school districts throughout the state lost control this year over about $40 million in federal Title I funds, which are designed to help low-income students.

Schools had to redirect the money toward outside tutoring efforts, and districts also had to send parents letters telling them many of their schools were failing to meet federal standards.

Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, said he is confident that Washington would regain its No Child Left Behind waiver if the full Legislature approves Senate Bill 5748 and it is signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee.

He and other supporters of the measure said they have seen local school districts suffer since they were forced to set aside 20 percent of their Title I money due to loss of the state’s waiver.

“The loss of flexibility from this waiver money had a direct impact on our ability to help low-income students in the state of Washington,” said Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah.

The measure was criticized by many in the Senate, however, who said it would evaluate teachers based on standardized test scores that don’t take into the account the challenges students and teachers face each day. The Washington Education Association, the state teachers union, opposes the proposal.

Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, said she doesn’t think it’s fair to judge teachers using new tests based on the Common Core standards, which school districts are administering for the first time this year.

“At least in my district, there is much hesitation about that,” Nelson said.

The bill would delay the requirement that school districts use standardized testing data in evaluations until the 2017-18 school year.

The measure now heads to the state House for consideration.

Passed in 2002, No Child Left Behind set academic achievement standards that schools throughout the country have been unable to meet, including that 100 percent of students pass state-administered math and reading tests by 2014.