Monday, May 14, 2012

Waiver hurdles . . .
OSPI received feedback from the Federal Education Department on the state’s ESEA waiver request. The letter informing Superintendent Dorn of the review by a panel of six peers included positive feedback as well as some concerns and questions. Positive feedback included strengths in the following areas.

• The inclusion of academic subjects other than English language arts and mathematics in the state’s accountability systems.

• The influential experiences of Local Education Associations who are already piloting teacher and principal evaluation models.

• Components of the state’s plan for transitioning to college and career-ready standards.

The letter also contained three areas where the department identified significant concerns.

• Whether the interventions proposed for priority schools fully meet the turnaround principles and are likely to increase the quality of instruction and improve student achievement;

• Whether the exit criteria for priority and focus schools are sufficiently rigorous;

• Whether student growth will be used as a significant factor in teacher and principal evaluation and support systems, and the infrequency of evaluations of experienced teachers.

OSPI will need to address these concerns before the department will grant the waiver. In February I did a post about the waiver process and my support for the potential to eliminate schools being identified as “failing” when measured by NCLB standards. The first two concerns above are related to the failing issue with the department questioning the rigor and capacity of the plan to hold low achieving schools accountable.

The third concern is focused on the state’s mandated evaluation system that has caused and continues to cause me concern. The departments concerns over this issue call into question the proposed timeline that many of us see as very ambitious.

• Address concern that ambitious statutory timelines for local implementation may be too short for LEAs to implement evaluation systems effectively. See 3.B.

An additional concern with this issue is related to how achievement data will be used to evaluate teachers and principals. The state plan gives autonomy to individual districts to work with bargaining units to make these decisions while the federal waiver guidelines require the use of achievement data as a significant factor. I think that this will continue to be a major hurdle for the state to overcome in the waiver process. I believe the federal department wants assurance that all districts will give significant weight to student achievement, something that was not a part of the recent legislative compromise on this topic. They may not have gone far enough to meet the department’s standard. Below is the specific language from the department’s report.

Please describe how Washington will ensure that LEAs create teacher and principal evaluation and support systems that include as a significant factor data on student growth for all students, consistent with the definition for student growth in ESEA flexibility. See 3.B.

It will interesting to follow this to see if the compromise that mandated the use of one of three models is enough to qualify for a waiver assuming the state can answer the other issues around rigor and accountability with priority and focus schools.

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