After Washington, along with two other states, was recently designated as being at “high risk” of losing its waiver regarding No Child Left Behind benchmarks, the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction on down to local school districts are working on ways to better measure student growth.
In a letter dated Aug. 14 to Washington State Superintendent Randy Dorn, Deborah Delisle, assistant secretary to the U.S. Department of Education, outlined the reasoning behind the state’s “high risk” designation.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, otherwise known as No Child Left Behind, imposed a strict 2014 deadline on schools under which 100 percent of students would have to be proficient in reading and math by that time.
When states were given the option to apply for waivers regarding the law in 2011, each had to submit plans detailing how they would continue to monitor student growth without the stimulation of meeting Adequate Yearly Progress.
Oregon and Kansas also received letters alerting them that while the waiver they and Washington obtained was renewed for this school year, if issues identified by the US Department of Education are not addressed by the end of the year the waiver will not be renewed again.
“Accordingly, I have determined that Washington has failed to meet the second condition that was placed on the approval of its ESEA flexibility request,” Delisle wrote.
The condition that led to Washington’s “high risk” designation involves student growth within teacher and principal evaluation systems. Under Washington’s law regarding use of student growth when evaluating an educator, each local district can choose whether or not to include the results of statewide assessments and can instead focus on only classroom testing.
In her letter to the Washington Department of Education, Delisle wrote that not requiring local districts to use state testing data is “insufficient to address this condition.”
In response to Washington’s “high risk” designation, Dorn “wasn’t surprised” because the current plan for measuring student growth in Washington “didn’t go far enough,” according to a press release by the state department of education.
To address the designation, Washington has to do three things. First, the state must submit a plan stating how future teacher and principal evaluations will use a variety of resources, including statewide test scores, to determine student growth. The state must also update the US Department of Education monthly on progress made with this plan and by May 1, 2014, submit another request for a waiver that uses student growth data “as a significant factor in determining teacher and principal performance levels,” according to the release.
In the White Salmon Valley Schools District, teachers are assessed by the Center for Educational Leadership, or CEL, 5D+ Teacher Evaluation Rubric. The rubric rates teachers as unsatisfactory, basic, proficient, or distinguished in five categories consisting of Educational Leadership, Student Engagement, Curriculum and Pedagogy, Assessment for Student Learning, and Classroom Environment and Culture. The “plus” in 5+ comes in with an extra category of Professional Collaboration and Communication.
White Salmon Valley School District Superintendent Dr. Jerry Lewis said White Salmon was one of many RIG, or Regional Implementation Grant, Districts to pilot “professional growth systems,” like 5+. Evaluating educators and administrators is conducted yearly and usually takes a bulk of the year while principals observe and meet with teachers before giving them the final evaluation.
Figuring out how to incorporate more state test scores into that evaluation process still falls on local districts.
“These are all things that have to be negotiated through collective bargaining at the local district level because the state has defined what the cut scores will be for student growth, but how those multiple measures are implemented and even identified is done at the district level. So our collective bargaining unit is in those discussions right now and they haven’t been finalized,” Lewis said.
A complete focus on a test taken once every year isn’t primarily the way Lewis would like to take the district, as he would like to continue to see multiple factors used to show students’ educational progression.
“Classroom assessment will be one of the key pieces of that because the state test is a high-stakes test. It’s a one-time test and it doesn’t give a fair assessment of where the kids are,” Lewis said.
Then on top of teacher evaluations, the district also has principal evaluations to conduct, which involve an entirely different rubric and are handled by Lewis. Each of those can take as much as 30 hours per principal and use standards set by the Association of Washington School Principals.
“We’re trying to maintain a positive and energetic environment because public education is just getting hit all of the time with ‘you’re not good enough’ or ‘you’re not doing this or that’ and some of the trends I’m seeing reveal a lot of good things. We’ve got a ways to go, but we’re getting there, we’re just not there yet,” Lewis said.