Three states get federal warning on teacher evaluation
By DONNA GORDON BLANKINSHIP
Of the Associated Press
SEATTLE — U.S. education officials announced Thursday that three states have not fulfilled their promises to bring their teacher and principal evaluation systems up to federal standards, but Washington, Oregon and Kansas have been given one extra year to finish the work.
The new teacher evaluation systems were part of the requirements for waivers from the federal education law known as “No Child Left Behind.” If the states meet the requirements of the waiver, they won't need to have every child meet state academic standards in reading and math by January 2014.
So far, 40 states and the District of Columbia have been granted a one- or two-year reprieve from the requirements of the U.S. education law, passed more than a decade ago. A group of districts in California recently were given a different kind of waiver from requirements of the federal law.
Washington, Oregon and Kansas had been placed on “high risk status” and given until the end of the 2012-13 school year to fix the way to include improvement in student test scores as a factor in teacher evaluations.
According to letters from Assistant Secretary Deborah S. Delisle, dated Wednesday, they all failed to meet their original deadlines.
These three states were among 10 given conditional waivers, which means they have to fix some things before getting more permanent flexibility. Of the 10, five passed all their federal conditions. Two others are still working on it: Georgia and Arizona.
Two other states that received their waivers more recently also will be closely watched over the next year to see if they meet some special conditions: Alabama and Hawaii. But the Department of Education says it is watching every state that has been given a waiver to make sure they are keeping their promises to reform their educational systems.
The letters sent this week gave the three states one more year to finish their education reform plans, but she wrote the federal government would not be giving them another extension after the 2013-14 school year ends.
Oregon has asked for extra time to continue piloting evaluating systems in school districts before settling on a statewide model.
“We want to make sure we're really picking the best model for Oregon,” said Crystal Greene, spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Education.
The federal government has problems with how flexible Washington's evaluation system is, leaving some decisions up to local school district, including whether to include state test results in teacher evaluations.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn said he believes Washington is on the right path and added that no school districts have bargained away the inclusion of state test data in their teacher contracts.
Dorn said he would ask lawmakers to adjust the state law again to make it more certain, but did not want to go overboard and give test scores too much influence.
“Some states have oversold the use of data,” he said. “I think we took a very reasonable approach.”
Denise Kahler, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Education, said staff is reviewing the letter they received from the U.S. Department of Education Wednesday evening.
“They will respond to the USDE once they've had an opportunity to determine what is the best plan for Kansas moving forward,” she said.
If the three states don't succeed in convincing federal officials they have met their requirements for a waiver they may need to go back to the original federal rules that require every school and every district to meet a group of benchmarks for kids in various ethnic and economic groups.
No Child Left Behind, also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, came up for renewal in 2007 but its requirements have yet to be updated by Congress.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan has pushed lawmakers to revisit the law and started the waiver program as a temporary measure. The House and Senate have been working on competing rewrites of the law.
AP reporters Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City and Steven DuBois in Portland, Ore., contributed to this story.