Teaching Profession

States Mixed on Waiver Leeway for Teacher Evaluations

By Alyson Klein — September 30, 2014 4 min read
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More than a third of states with No Child Left Behind Act waivers say they want to take the U.S. Department of Education up on its recent offer to put off incorporating student test scores into teacher evaluations until the end of this school year, according to an Education Week survey of state education departments.

The offer, made in August, was available to any waiver state that is making the transition to new assessments in the 2014-15 school year.

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia surveyed in recent weeks indicated that they were likely to ask for the new flexibility, or were already planning not to use student achievement outcome data in evaluations given to teachers this school year. On that list: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Utah. (Georgia asked for the flexibility just last week.)

Some, such as Ohio and the District of Columbia, already were planning to go that route before the Aug. 21 announcement, so the Education Department may not have had much choice in offering the flexibility. Otherwise, it might have had to pull a lot of waivers.

Taking a Pass

At least 11 states said they weren’t likely to seek the extra time on incorporating student results into teacher evaluations: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Some of those states gave a very firm no. For example, New Mexico will “not be breaking the commitment we made in our waiver. Delayed accountability won’t help the students of New Mexico,” said state Secretary of Education-designate Hanna Skandera, in a statement.

Other states fell into the category of no—with an asterisk. For instance, New Jersey is planning to apply for additional flexibility to rework how much weight it gives student outcomes on new tests in its evaluation system. New York was also a “no” state, but it passed legislation that created a “safety net” for teachers who don’t get high ratings.

Meanwhile, Colorado is in the no camp, but it is allowing districts to figure out how much weight to give student test scores in evaluations during this school year only. South Carolina is also in an unusual position, because it incorporates multiple years of data into its teacher-accountability system.

A few states, like Hawaii, Indiana, and Wisconsin, aren’t sure yet what they will do.

It’s not a simple yes-or-no answer in Indiana, according to state education department spokesman Daniel Altman. The decision on whether to take advantage of the flexibility would have to be made by the legislature or the state board of education, and he said the board would be unlikely to seek such flexibility.

Glenda Ritz, the superintendent of public instruction, does not have the authority to make the change on her own. However, Ms. Ritz has written opinion essays that suggest she would favor consideration of a delay.

“It is typical for student scores on standardized tests to dip as a result of new and more rigorous expectations, giving the appearance of a decline in achievement. In order for an accountability system to be strong and meaningful to parents and educators, it must also be fair and equitable,” Ms. Ritz wrote in an op-ed commentary that appeared in several state news sources in June. “That is why we need to look at ways we can minimize the effect of a likely expected drop in performance.”

For their part, federal Education Department officials were unsurprised to see that states were all over the map on whether they would seek the flexibility.

“States are in very different places right now—not all want or need this type of delay, and some have told us that it would be a step backward for them,” Dorie Nolt, a spokeswoman for the department, said in a statement. “That’s why we are offering individual states the opportunity to request the flexibility that is appropriate for them. Teachers and parents have told us they are concerned about the connection between testing and teacher evaluation during the transition to new assessments that most states are doing next year, so we hope this new flexibility will relieve some of that pressure.”

Details of Process

States will apply for the flexibility when they seek their waiver renewals next spring, said Raymonde Charles, a spokeswoman for the Education Department.

That sounds like an odd process, given that the school year will already be nearly over by the time states ask permission for delaying the use of test scores in evaluations, said Anne Hyslop, a senior policy analyst at Bellwether Education Partners, a consulting firm in Washington, who has closely studied the waivers.

“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous,” she said. “The timeline and sequencing has been really problematic throughout the waiver-extension process.”

The new flexibility also doesn’t have any effect on the department’s plan to offer some states a longer waiver renewal next spring—a reward for staying on track with their teacher-evaluation systems, Ms. Charles added.

So far, nine states have been told by the Education Department that they could be eligible for a longer waiver renewal: Tennessee, Florida, Mississippi, Kentucky, North Carolina, Georgia, New York, Nevada, and Virginia.

Meanwhile, Kansas, the District of Columbia, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Delaware, South Carolina, Maryland, Idaho, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, and South Dakota have all had their waivers extended. But they were not explicitly told they were in the running for a longer renewal, meaning that their teacher-evaluation systems may not completely conform to the department’s vision and timeline.

Staff Writer Denisa R. Superville and other staff members contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the October 01, 2014 edition of Education Week as States Mixed on New Waiver Flexibility for Teacher Evaluations

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