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Loss of NCLB Waiver Looms for Washington State This Month

Cross-posted from the Politics K-12 blog

By Alyson Klein


All eyes have been on Washington state since lawmakers there adjourned last month without making a key change to their teacher-evaluation system that would have enabled the state to hang on to its flexibility from the mandates of the much-maligned No Child Left Behind Act.

And now, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is on the verge of yanking Washington state's waiver, several sources say. An official decision is likely by the end of month—and if the waiver is pulled, as expected, the move would make the Evergreen State the first to lose its flexibility. 

Duncan called Randy Dorn, the state schools chief, Tuesday to discuss the waiver situation, but the state didn't get official word during that conversation that the flexibility would be pulled, Nathan Olson, a spokesman for Dorn, told my colleague Andrew Ujifusa.

"We'd hoped this phone call would yield a simple yes-or-no answer to the question about whether we'd continue the waiver," said Olson. "We did not get that answer [Tuesday]." In the meantime, the state is proceeding on the assumption that it will lose its flexibility. 

Washington is one of four states that has had its waiver put on "high risk" status by the U.S. Department of Education. In all four cases—Arizona, Kansas, and Oregon are the others—the problem stems from teacher evaluation. Waiver states must gauge teacher performance based on state assessments, and state assessments only. But under Washington state law, districts have a choice: They can use either state tests or locally-developed exams in evaluations. The Obama administration made Washington's waiver conditional, contingent on a change in the law. 

But, despite support from Gov. Jay Inslee and Dorn, lawmakers were unable to pass a new law that would have called for districts to begin to evaluate educators using only state exams starting in the 2017-18 school year. It's unclear if that law would have made much of a difference anyway, since other waiver states must get their teacher-evaluation systems up to snuff by the 2016-17 school year, at the latest. 

It's unclear how a former waiver state would make the transition back to the NCLB accountability system. There are major issues to be worked out, including where schools would stand on the law's accountability timetable, which calls for different interventions based on the number of years a school has missed its goals. More in this story

UPDATE: Dorie Nolt, a spokeswoman for the department, said in an email:

"We are in touch with Washington officials on the state's request to extend Elementary and Secondary Education Act flexibility. Washington has made us aware that they are unable to meet the state's commitment to create a teacher- and principal-evaluation and -support system with multiple measures, including student growth based on state assessments and other measures of professional practice. The Department has not issued a final decision yet, but we recognize that the state needs to know soon as officials prepare local budgets for next school year."

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