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How Should NCLB Waiver States Keep an Eye On District Teacher-Evaluation Plans?

Developing teacher evaluations that take into account student progress on state tests has arguably been the toughest lift for the states with waivers from the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act (that's 42 states and the District of Columbia, now that Washington has lost its flexibility.)

Of the 42 states with waivers, just 10 choose a statewide evaluation system that looks the same in every district, according to a report released Tuesday by the Center for American Progress, a think tank in Washington that's considered to be closely aligned with the Obama administration. The remaining 32 states—the vast majority—gave some flexibility to districts to design systems that fit within certain broad parameters.

That means, of course, that while the feds are busy policing and negotiating with states on the finer points of the waiver plans, states are doing the same thing with districts. That's a new role for some state agencies, CAP found. The process is fairly new for most states and it doesn't always run smoothly.

The stakes in keeping close watch on districts could eventually prove high for states—so far the department has put four states on "high risk" status (meaning that they are in danger of losing a waiver) for problems relating to teacher evaluation. It's likely that the issue will take on new prominence as more states move towards full implementation of their teacher-evaluation systems next school year. 

States are experimenting with new policies, CAP found, such as setting up new departments within their state agencies just to oversee teacher evaluation (including Connecticut, and Oregon, which was actually put on high-risk status for teacher evaluation.) States are also developing teacher-evaluation "cheat sheets" to help districts understand what a good teacher-evaluation system looks like (including Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Kansas, another state on high-risk thanks to teacher evaluation.)

And states (including Georgia) have designed and implemented electronic data systems to keep tabs on district systems that don't necessarily match up with the state model. States are also encouraging "peer review" among districts, in which they essentially get to study each others' evaluation systems and decide if they meet department requirements. (Alaska, New Hampshire, and Oregon go this route.)

The report also takes a deep look at how Maryland, Missouri, Ohio, and Indiana are handling district monitoring. (It's important to note that Maryland's teacher evaluation is still under review with the feds, and Indiana isn't meeting expectations when it comes to teacher evaluation, according to its most recent monitoring report.) 

CAP also makes recommendations for how states can smooth the process. For instance, the think tank suggests states get on a regular communications cycle with districts, so they are aware when the state will be checking in. And it suggests that states start the process with a very clear idea of what strong teacher-evaluation implementation actually looks like, especially when districts are piloting their ideas.  

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