For the fourth time in as many years, the Washington Legislature is taking a look at teacher and principal evaluations, responding to pressure from the U.S. government to force school districts to judge performance partly on student test scores.
Three proposals were up for discussion Wednesday in the Senate Education Committee.
One would require school districts to give heavy weight to test scores — at least 50 percent in some sections of job-performance reviews. The second would make test data a mandatory part of teacher and principal evaluations but not mandate a percentage.
The third bill, requested by the superintendent of public instruction, is similar to the second but would delay implementation until the 2016-2017 school year.
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If the evaluation law isn’t changed to require test scores as a factor in evaluations, the state is in danger of losing federal dollars for education and a waiver from the federal government from the requirements of the No Child Left Behind law, education officials say.
Last year’s revision of the state law gave districts some flexibility about how they might use testing data. Since teacher contracts are negotiated locally, districts are making their own decisions about how to interpret the law and most are not including state test scores in their evaluation systems.
“Most of them are simply postponing that conversation,” said Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Alan Burke. “They have spent most of their time focusing on the classroom-based tools because those affect all teachers.”
The federal education law set a 2014 deadline for every child in the nation to be reading and doing math at grade level. The U.S. Department of Education has been granting waivers from that rule to states that meet certain requirements, including using test data in evaluations.
Washington was given a conditional waiver to give it time to fix the system. Burke said losing the waiver could force nearly all schools in the state to send a letter home to parents saying they are failing to meet the requirements of the federal education law.
It also may change the way school districts can spend nearly $40 million in federal dollars or possibly make some money unavailable to some districts, state officials believe.
Sen. Steve Litzow, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said he is confident the Legislature will come up with a compromise to revise the law this session. Litzow, R-Mercer Island, is sponsoring the option that would require statewide testing to make up at least 50 percent of the data behind some parts of evaluations.