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THE first task for the upcoming state legislative session is to fix the well-intentioned, but essentially toothless, teacher-principal evaluation law.

What is necessary to bring state law into federal compliance is a simple fix. It requires only the courage lawmakers did not have when they wrote the law, over the opposition of the powerful state teachers union, the Washington Education Association.

The law says statewide test scores “can” be a factor in teacher evaluations.

Points for reading comprehension go to federal education officials who noticed the tepid language and are demanding the word “can” be changed to “must.”

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Failure to act comes at a cost. Washington would no longer meet the standards for a waiver from the No Child Left Behind federal education law. The federal government would withhold about $46 million provided to the state’s local school districts to help educate disadvantaged students.

Do not leave that money on the table. In many of this state’s 295 districts, it pays for basics, including full-day kindergarten. At stake is more than a large check. Washington is currently exempt from a federal mandate that all students be working at grade level by 2014. Without the waiver, practically every district would be labeled as failing. The federal penalty is that parents would have the option of changing schools, with transportation provided at district expense.

We don’t want to go there.

Teachers were among those wanting a stronger evaluation system. Now they have it. They should not be able to opt out because they do not like some aspects of professional accountability.

Requiring the use of statewide test scores is a sticking point for teachers, but is appropriate. Union locals can still bargain with school districts over the extent to which state assessments are used.

And appraisals of teachers are not just about test scores. Most of the evaluation is of how well teachers manage and organize their classrooms. They are graded on lesson plans, how well they engage students and collaborate with other teachers and staff. Student performance comes into play in just three of the eight areas measured.

The WEA should not try to sandbag federal education officials. The union that has gone to the mat fighting for money for members should not cause this state to forfeit federal money used to help disadvantaged children.

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