February 21, 2014 in Opinion

Editorial: School district money at stake as Washington continues to defy feds

 

The rollout of a new Washington teacher and principal evaluation system may not come in time to satisfy the U.S. Department of Education and preserve school district control over $44 million that pays for tutors, preschool and other programs intended to improve test results among disadvantaged students.

More than $2.3 million is at stake for Spokane Public Schools, and another $1 million for other Spokane County districts.

The No Child Left Behind and Secondary Education acts tie that money to student progress in reading and mathematics, with a goal of proficiency by 100 percent of students this year. If students are not progressing, districts must consider the test results when evaluating teachers.

But the system adopted by Washington in 2010 says testing can – not must – figure in evaluations.

That’s not good enough for the Department of Education, which waived the NCLB requirement for Washington and several other states while they moved toward compliance. When it granted the waiver for this school year, the department said future renewals were “high risk” – patience is running out.

Tuesday night, the Washington Senate rejected a bill that would have substituted “must” for “can” when districts consider student test scores in evaluations. If the state cannot obtain another waiver, the full weight of NCLB would come to bear. School districts would be in a very tough situation, very fast.

If all grade levels and all segments of a school’s student population are not making sufficient progress, as measured by tests, parents are notified. They will have the choice of sending their child to any school in the district, which would pay for the transportation with a slice of the money now funding tutoring and other supplementary instruction.

And parents would also be able to use some of the money to pay for supplemental education provided by private tutoring services.

SB 5246 was supposed to head off this mess.

But teachers felt like they gave up enough when Washington created its evaluations standards, and leaned on Democrats not to take more by adding “must.” Conservative Republicans saw an opportunity to defy another federal mandate. SB 5246 failed 19-28.

There are legitimate concerns regarding implementation of the evaluations. Language and math teachers are singled out because those are the skills tested. Imposing NCLB requirements just as the state shifts to a Common Core curriculum with tougher testing is unfair.

But most other states are complying, and moving on, while Washington looks for more love from Washington, D.C.

On Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee is supposed to make the state’s case with Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Democrats are hoping for help from Sen. Patty Murray, who met with them earlier this week.

What parents want, and students deserve, are capable teachers in the classroom. Tests are a necessary part of their evaluation for taxpayers as well as families with school-age children.

Make them count, or Washington will be the child left behind.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.


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