WA gets education waiver extension; feds call it 'high risk'

The U.S. Department of Education extended Washington state's waiver from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) — also known as No Child Left Behind in recent years — for the upcoming school year.

The waiver helps the state avoid penalties under the ESEA as Washington state tries to implement three reforms that were part of its original waiver plan. Those reforms include:

• College and career-ready expectations for all students;

• State-developed recognition and accountability system support system; and

• Teacher/principal evaluations.

Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn said the extension was expected and that the state needs to continue its work.

"This gives us a chance to continue the reforms we've started in the past few years," Dorn said in a news release. "Those reforms seem to be effective, but having them in place another year will give us a better sense of how effective."

The Department of Education termed this year's extension "high risk" due to some perceived issues with specific wording in Washington State Senate Bill 5895. According to Dorn's office, part of that bill reads "Student growth data…must be based on multiple measures that can include classroom-based, school-based, district-based and state-based tools."

The department objected to the use of the word "can," indicating that Washington state's "interpretation of including student growth as a significant factor in educator evaluation systems is inconsistent with the ESEA flexibility definition of student growth."

Dorn said he saw this objection coming.

"When the Legislature was debating 5895, I said that the language didn't go far enough," he said. "The Department of Education agrees with me. Now the Legislature has the next session to strengthen the law. The waiver also gives us a chance to fully implement the Common Core state standards. It will take some time for teachers to adjust to the new standards and the curricula to teach them."

Locally, Federal Way Public Schools Superintendent Rob Neu said he wasn't surprised that the state was deemed "high risk" by the Department of Education.

"I'm pleased that the United States Department of Education has extended the Washington waiver for another year," he said. "I'm not surprised by the designation of 'high risk' as we move toward a student growth model that includes multiple measures. I believe that if data is to be used effectively in the evaluation process, it should be based on student growth and include multiple measures. It will take time to develop the right tools and this extension certainly helps us to move forward to do so."

According to Dorn's office, three things need to happen to remove the "high risk" designation:

• Submission of a plan describing how Washington's teacher and principal evaluation system meets the ESEA flexibility requirements

• Provide monthly updates on the state's progress in carrying out the plan

• By May 1, 2014, submit an amended request to the Department of Education that "incorporates final guidelines for the teacher and principal evaluation systems, including the use of student growth data 'as a significant factor in determining teacher and principal performance levels.'"


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