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New Effort Afoot in Washington State to Win Back NCLB Waiver

Policymakers in waiverless Washington state are making a fresh push to regain the state's flexibility from many of the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act, even as Congress mulls legislation to overhaul the law.

To recap, Washington became the first state to lose its NCLB waiver last spring because the state's teacher-evaluation system doesn't require districts to take state scores into account. (Districts can, but it's optional). 

Since yanking the Evergreen State's flexibility though, the U.S. Department of Education has gone out of its way to give pretty much every other waiver state serious leeway on teacher evaluation.

Most recently, the department allowed states to push off using test scores in performance reviews for an entire school year—and they didn't even have to ask permission up front, just in applications to renew their waivers.

In fact, there's some speculation that the department handled Washington state's case the way it did in part to give some folks there—including Randy Dorn, the state superintendent of public instruction, and Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat—political cover to get the changes they are seeking to teacher-performance reviews.

But if that was the plan ... it may have backfired.

State Sen. Steve Litzow, a Republican who controls the Senate education committee in Washington's legislature, recently introduced legislation that would help the state get its waiver back by requiring districts to use state scores in their performance reviews. Litzow championed a similar proposal last year, which lawmakers rejected on a bipartisan basis.

And it's unclear how much more support the measure will get this time around.  

After all, Congress is now in the midst of the first serious attempt at updating NCLB, the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, in over a decade. And the federal lawmakers seem poised to put a stop to the Obama administration's policy of mandating teacher evaluations that incorporate test scores.

So why would the Evergreen State change its game plan now? asked Rich Wood, a spokesman for the Washington Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association.

"It makes even less sense now to make a dramatic change to our teacher-evaluation system in Washington, when Congress is apparently going to change the overarching law in question," he said.

And, he added, the state's teachers have taken note of the leeway Duncan has given other states on performance reviews.

"Teachers in Washington state have noticed how that has played out at a national level," he said. "It proves their original point that mandating the use of state test scores is not a good policy."

State Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, the top Democrat on the education committee, said she also thinks that the pending reauthorization gives the Evergreen State even less of a reason to rework its teacher-evaluation system.

For his part, Dorn is pulling both for Litzow's bill—and for Congress to get its act together. "We're hoping and waiting for reauthorization," his spokesman, Nathan Olson said. 

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