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Could Washington State Get Its NCLB Waiver Back?

By Alyson Klein — March 12, 2015 2 min read
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The Washington state Senate took a critical step Wednesday toward regaining the state’s waiver from many of the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act, passing legislation that would require districts to incorporate test scores into teacher evaluations by the 2016-17 school year.

The Evergreen State lost its waiver last year because its evaluation system gave districts a choice between state and local test scores. The feds want waiver states to make state test scores part of picture.

Importantly, the bill, authored by state Sen. Steve Litzow, a Republican, is different from another piece of potential waiver-saving legislation that failed to make it across the finish line last year, according to the Associated Press. This year’s bill would give school districts broader leeway over just how much weight to give state test scores in evaluations, instead of recommending that the scores count a certain amount everywhere.

And these district-level teacher-evaluation systems can be subject to local collective bargaining. Still, the Washington State Education Association opposes the bill, according to AP.

Giving districts a major say over how much weight to give state tests shouldn’t present too big of a problem for federal officials, who have said state scores must be a “significant” part of evaluations, but have essentially left it up to states to decide exactly what significant means. And many states have, in turn, allowed their districts to define significant—and still gotten their waivers approved by the U.S. Department of Education.

The bill passed, 33 to 26, with bipartisan support, and now heads over to the Washington state House of Representatives.

The legislation’s fate could have big implications in that other Washington: Washington, D.C.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, the state’s senior senator and the top Democrat on the Senate education committee, is trying to negotiate a bipartisan bill to revise the NCLB law with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the committee chairman.

Murray is said to be under the gun to get a deal because districts in her state have lost control of some $40 million in federal Title I funds for disadvantaged students, which they must now set aside for outdated NCLB-style interventions, including tutoring and school choice. But if Litzow’s bill makes it through the legislature and the waiver is ultimately restored, Murray could be under (very) slightly less pressure to get a deal.