Wash. Loses 'No Child Left Behind' Waiver Over Teacher Evaluations

Washington has become the first state to have its "No Child Left Behind" waiver revoked by the federal government, meaning the state will have less flexibility in spending federal education funds.

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Washington has become the first state to lose its waiver to the No Child Left Behind Act. Most states have waivers to some of the more stringent requirements of the 2001 federal law but those waivers come with conditions. As NPR's Martin Kaste reports, Washington is being punished because it didn't fulfill a condition that is very dear to the Obama administration.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: What the administration wants is simple. Teachers should be evaluated, in part, on how their students do on standardized tests.

RANDY DORN: That seems reasonable to me.

KASTE: This is Washington State's elected superintendent of public instruction, Randy Dorn.

DORN: Should how much a student learns in a classroom - and if we have the ability to connect that to a teacher - should we make that an element, an element of the evaluation? I think the answer's yes.

KASTE: But the state legislature said no, under pressure from the teachers' union, which rejected what it called the administration's bureaucratic demands. So the Department of Education is now revoking the state's waiver to No Child Left Behind. It just so happens that this is the year when, under the law, no child is supposed to be left behind anymore.

Dorn says that means Washington schools are now expected to have students that are 100 percent proficient.

DORN: We are going to have to send out to about at least 90 percent of our schools, we're gonna have to send a letter out and say to the student and their parent that your child goes to a failing school. And that is just the wrong message. The majority of our schools are very, very good.

KASTE: Without the waiver, schools like this elementary in Seattle will have to set aside some of their federal money for remedies such as private tutoring services or transportation for kids who want to go to another school. Education professor Greg Fritzberg said the state made a mistake defying the Obama administration on this issue.

GREG FRITZBERG: I think they should have passed the law and then continued to talk to the DOE about, yes, but you mean one part of a teacher's evaluation. I think they should've done that and continued to play ball.

KASTE: Fritzberg teaches at Seattle Pacific University and has written about federal attempts at education reform. He's open to using tests as a piece of a more nuanced teacher evaluation system. But he also shares the worry about American schools becoming too obsessed with testing. He says it would be especially dangerous if, down the road, test scores determined a teacher's pay.

FRITZBERG: Parent ought to be really worried that teachers who are trying to maybe buy a house in place like Seattle start paying attention to, you know, (unintelligible) or whatever, so they get test scores up.

KASTE: Pretty much everyone agrees on one point. Congress needs to rewrite the more unworkable parts of No Child Left Behind. Meanwhile, most states are now moving to the new Common Core standards and that could have an unintended effect on this whole debate over the role of test scores. Diane Rentner is deputy director at the Center on Education Policy.

DIANE RENTNER: You know, with brand new standards and brand new tests and everyone agrees that the Common Core are more rigorous than most state standards, you're likely to have lower student test scores.

KASTE: And she says that's causing some nervousness in the states that have already agreed to link scores and teacher evaluations. Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.

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