Washington Risks Losing NCLB Waiver After Senate Rejects Bill

The state may not have another chance to meet the deadline to comply with federal requirements.

An inspector evaluates a teacher and children.

Washington may be at risk of losing its No Child Left Behind Waiver after senators rejected a bill to change the state's teacher evaluation system.

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Washington state faces a potentially greater risk of losing its No Child Left Behind waiver after state senators this week rejected a measure requiring standardized test results to be used in teacher and principal evaluations.

The Education Department in August put Washington – along with Kansas and Oregon – on "high-risk" notice for failing to meet certain requirements of the waivers, which give states flexibility from accountability requirements under No Child Left Behind. A letter sent to Randy Dorn, Washington's superintendent of public instruction, said the state was put on notice because its definition of student growth measures included in teacher and principal evaluations was not consistent with that of the department. 

[READ: Most of NCLB's 'Failing' Schools Were Not Targeted the Following Year]

While the department gave each state one more year to make the necessary adjustments to their teacher evaluation systems before revoking their waivers at the end of this school year, the Washington Senate's rejection of the bill means lawmakers missed a deadline to move non-budget-related issues through at least one chamber of the legislature, The Seattle Times reports.

Under current state law, it's up to local school districts in Washington to decide whether to include state standardized tests in their teacher evaluation systems and they can choose which tests they use, meaning classroom tests are also acceptable. Due to that distinction, "the rules that Washington submitted regarding the use of student growth as a significant factor in teacher and principal evaluation and support systems are insufficient to address this condition," Deborah Delisle, the Education Department's assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, wrote in the August letter.

The department began issuing waivers to No Child Left Behind in 2011 and has since granted flexibility to 42 states, the District of Columbia and eight California school districts. Because the sweeping education law is long overdue for reauthorization, waivers have, in a sense, become the new norm.

They allow states to circumvent certain key requirements of the education reform law – which has been criticized for inadvertently encouraging states to set low academic standards – in exchange for adopting certain education reforms supported by the Obama administration. 

[MORE: Education Department Loosens NCLB Waiver Requirements]

But losing the waiver would mean the state would again be subject to the strict requirements of No Child Left Behind, such as meeting "adequate yearly progress" measures of student improvement. Under the law, formally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, every student in the country should be reading and doing math at his or her grade level by the end of this school year. 

Still, state Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, a Democrat who voted against the bill, said Washington should look for other ways to get its waiver extended past the end of the 2013-14 school year, according to The News Tribune.

“We have one of the best evaluation programs in the nation, and we do not want to break it,” McAuliffe said.