The U.S. Department of Education says it doesn't want to let one district operate "outside of the state's accountability system."

Share story

After Washington state lost its waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law last year, Seattle applied for its own, arguing that its teacher evaluation system matched what the U.S. Department of Education wanted.

But Seattle’s request was denied, a district spokeswoman confirmed Monday.

The school district asked nearly a year ago for relief from the strictest provisions of that law after Washington became the first state in the country to lose its waiver. (Washington does not mandate the use of student scores on statewide tests as part of a teacher’s evaluation — a condition for keeping the No Child waiver.)

Seattle, however, has a unique way of evaluating teachers, one that district officials thought would satisfy U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s conditions. Under a system negotiated with the Seattle Education Association, low student test scores trigger a closer look at teachers’ performance, even though the scores by themselves don’t factor into their annual evaluations. Teachers whose students perform well on the tests are eligible for higher-paying jobs as teaching mentors.

But the U.S. Department of Education said last week it would not grant the district a waiver of its own because it didn’t want to allow one district to operate outside of the state’s accountability system.

In a letter to Seattle schools chief Larry Nyland, assistant education secretary Deborah Delisle also noted that the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction “continues to express a desire” to receive a No Child waiver.

A bill to tie student test scores to teacher evaluations — an idea backed by state Superintendent Randy Dorn and opposed by the state teachers’ union — passed the state Senate this year but failed to gain traction in the House.

Seattle is not the only school district to ask for a No Child waiver, which initially were only granted to states. In 2013, a group of eight California school districts became the first school systems in the country to win waivers on their own. (California had earlier asked for a waiver and been turned down.) Nearly every state has asked for waivers from the law, which required that all students pass their state’s reading and math exams by 2014 — a goal all states failed to reach, and many critics have long said was impossible.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, said in a prepared statement Monday that her proposed rewrite of the No Child law would “end the need for waivers like these.”

The bill, cosponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, has a “long way to go” before being signed into law, Murray said.