Policy Brief

Kansas, Oregon, Washington Waivers at 'High Risk'

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The U.S. Department of Education is threatening to revoke No Child Left Behind Act waivers for three states at the end of the 2013-14 school year over their failure to come up with new teacher-evaluation systems tied to student growth.

Kansas, Oregon, and Washington have been placed on "high risk" status and given one more year to get their teacher-evaluation systems on track. Specifically, each of those states is struggling with incorporating student academic growth into teacher ratings.

This is the first enforcement action federal officials have taken since the initial waivers were issued early last year. Forty states and the District of Columbia have waivers from NCLB provisions, as does a group of eight California districts. ("Districts' Leeway Shatters Mold," this issue.)

In letters sent to the three states Aug. 15, the Education Department spelled out more conditions they must meet during the coming school year to keep their waivers. Mostly, federal officials want to see evidence that the states are trying to meet their teacher-evaluation deadlines. The ultimate penalty for each state is losing its waiver and being forced back under the NCLB law as written.

The Obama administration's NCLB waivers—an answer to the failure of Congress to rewrite the law—require that states implement teacher-evaluation systems that incorporate student growth as a significant factor, all on an aggressive federal timeline.

States must get their systems approved by the department during the first year of their waivers. The new systems then must be implemented statewide by 2014-15 and used to inform personnel decisions in 2015-16 (or, with an additional waiver, in 2016-17).

While Washington state's evaluation system is in state law, that law also leaves it up to individual districts to decide whether to include test scores in teacher ratings. Federal requirements don't allow such district discretion, so the state will have to secure a change in its law. That's not likely to be easy, given the contentiousness of teacher-evaluation debates across the country.

Still, Washington state officials say they are committed to changing the law.

Vol. 33, Issue 01, Page 18

Published in Print: August 21, 2013, as Three Waiver States On 'High Risk' List
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