It is nuanced and carefully thought out. I believe the Senator is probably speaking from a position of good faith in what he believes this bill to be. Unfortunately, I do not share that trust/comfort that this bill is merely a way to get back the NCLB waiver. If you read his letter, it seems like he thinks it does almost nothing and, of course, that makes no sense because no one created this bill just to do very little.
Perhaps it is just a foot in the door but it's kind of a Shaq foot in the door. (I'm going to highlight relevant sections in red along with some comments.)
In 2010 the legislature passed legislation implementing a statewide teacher evaluation system after long discussions with the educators, the legislature, and other stakeholders. In 2012, Governor Gregoire brokered an update to this legislation that required districts to have a component of their evaluation utilizing some student growth data component from either school based, district based, or state based assessments. These are the evaluation and professional development systems currently being implemented around the state.
In early 2013, the federal government indicated to Washington we were at risk of losing our NCLB waiver, and the flexibility for use of a portion of our Title I money, if we did not amend our statute to require the use of state based assessments in the current evaluation systems.
In 2014, Governor Inslee went to Washington, D.C. to negotiate with Education Secretary Arne Duncan to grant us the flexibility we need. He came back and advised the legislature a bill, along the lines of SB 5748, would likely be required to restore Washington’s waiver.
Last year, the original waiver bill presented in the Senate offered no concrete assurance that the use of test scores would be open to negotiation at the local level and no process for the Superintendent of Public Instruction to certify the use of the assessments would be done in a fair manner for educators. Moreover, it offered no delay at all in the use of the evaluations until the state had some experience over the next several years in seeing what the results of the Smarter Balanced assessments (SBAC) would be. For this reason, I voted against that bill in 2014.
However, without any action by the State on the issue, the federal government made good on its promise and revoked Washington’s NCLB waiver in April of 2014. When the federal government revoked Washington’s NCLB waiver, districts lost flexibility of roughly $40 million in federal Title 1 funds designed to provide academic supports for struggling students. While I acknowledge the loss of these funds were not critical in every single district around the state, the flexible use of these funds is very important in several of our highest poverty school districts. A number of school districts testified that the loss of flexibility using Title 1 dollars seriously impacted their instructional program for students and their ability to provide consistent intervention or support services to their most struggling students. The common theme was that the loss of flexibility undercut their ability to provide consistent intervention and support at the right time to their most struggling students. In particular, I know this was a concern in the high poverty Highline School District as well as in Tacoma and Seattle, as expressed by their superintendents.
(Editor's note: While I appreciate that districts no longer had control over how the dollars were spent, Seattle Schools says that much of the money got spent - by parents - on tutoring services. That this was not exactly how the district wanted to spend the money does not negate that it did have use.)
Additionally when the NCLB waiver was revoked, letters were sent to schools considered to be failing by the NCLB standards. Now, I don’t believe that anywhere close to 90% of our schools statewide are failing and I certainly don’t believe that nearly all of our Seattle schools are failing. Some dismiss these confusing “failure” letters as irrelevant or a non-event. I respectfully disagree. While it’s clear that the NCLB law is broken in this respect, I think the letters have the potential to create a false impression for the public when we very well may need to be asking that same public to invest billions more in our K-12 system to meet our McCleary and 1351 obligations. I also think that calling nearly all of our schools failing is disrespectful to our educators who are working hard, daily, to improve lives of their students. It is not lost on me how hard educators work and I want to do my best to support and respect those efforts.
I want to be clear about thing – I think that the federal NCLB law is woefully broken. The federal government’s lack of flexibility put us in this position. My strong preference would have been for Secretary Duncan to grant us the NCLB waiver based upon our existing evaluation law which provides for the permissive use of state based, district based or school based assessments for continuing professional development. Senator Patty Murray is gamely trying to find a way to rewrite NCLB in the Congress. However, at this point, when Congress cannot even find the will to fund the Department of Homeland Security, I have little confidence that changes to NCLB are going to occur until this next Presidential administration, if at all. For this reason, we face the prospect of the continued loss of the waiver for the foreseeable future unless we take some action.
(So NCLB is going to be rewritten but we don't know exactly when or what it will say but we want to continue to operate as though it will have the same kinds of requirements? Is that a good reason to pass this bill?)
There is another point I want you to know. Prior to Governor Inslee’s negotiations with Secretary Duncan over the waiver last winter, the Washington Education Association put forward to the federal government a paper on the waiver issue. I have attached the document here. In providing this to you, I am not suggesting that this position represents where the WEA is today or that it fully represented the views of all educators. But I am suggesting to you that, in my opinion, it represented a plausible way forward for resolving this complicated NCLB waiver requirement to ensure that Washington retained its waiver while minimizing the actual use of state based assessments. The bill I voted on - due to the amendment that was adopted - is very similar to what was being suggested in this memo.
Thus, I want you to understand the amended bill I recently voted for (SB 5748) is not the original bill I voted against last year. I am attaching the actual amendment that was adopted last week for you to review. In particular I would direct you to the “effect” statement at the end of the document. As you will see, it reaffirms state based evaluations must be used only as one of multiple measures of student growth for the purposes of teacher and principal evaluations beginning no earlier than the 2017-18 school year; three full school years from now.
The amendment continues the policy already established by expressly ensuring assessments are only one of several evaluation criteria. This is not and will not be the sole criteria by which teachers are evaluated and under no circumstances can any assessment be the sole basis for a teacher evaluation. Moreover, the delayed implementation gives us three cycles of tests before they play any role in any evaluation for any teacher in our state. The current system stays in place for the next three years allowing us to see what results look like across the system. There will continue to be the option to revise and revamp the system moving forward, but even with this delay the waiver can likely be restored. I have received comments from educators that the use of these assessments is not fair because they don’t teach in a subject tested – social studies or physical education or art, etc. The amendment makes clear that in this case, the assessment would not be used in those evaluations. The assessment can only be used where “relevant”.
(I had to smile here. Again, this parsing of word meaning is very tricky and what is "relevant" to Republicans may not be to Dems. Who decides?)
Second, the use of statewide assessment results in teacher and principal evaluations is expressly reserved to implementation with educators through the collective bargaining process. This preserves local control and requires educators have a direct say in how the evaluations will be used. The use of these assessments after 2017-18, again, only for those teachers for whom the assessment is relevant, can be as little as 1% or even half a percent of the entire evaluation. There is no threshold percentage assigned. Period. If people suggest that there is such a threshold, they are wrong. It is not in there. There have been proposals in the past by others to require these tests to be as much as 50% of an educator’s score - I have always opposed measures like that and will continue to oppose such ideas. Very simply, this is not that. Some will say this could be a slippery slope toward a massive use of these tests in evaluations. To date we have not seen this occur in the systems districts have set up under our current law, which even today require the use of some assessment data – be it school, district or state based. I think the slippery slope is highly unlikely to be the result of this proposed legislation.
(I think it disingenuous to say it could "be as little as 1%" as that just isn't going to be the case. And, Arne Duncan has said mixed things on this point. Many of these evaluations are based on VAMS (value-added modeling) which the DOE has encouraged thru RttT dollars. VAMs have many issues in their use.)
Finally, the amendment stipulates the requirement will not be implemented until the test is deemed a valid and reliable way to measure student growth. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Teacher Principal Evaluation (TPEP) system's steering committee are required to determine if the assessments meet professionally accepted standards as a valid and reliable tool of measuring student growth. This is a pre-condition before these assessments can be used no earlier than three years from now. This means they must certify that using the assessments in this manner will strengthen the existing evaluation system.
(A valid and reliable way to measure student growth? And who would deem this, Randy Dorn?)
In sum, I think the amendment I voted in favor of recognizes the importance of keeping educators involved in the discussion on how to craft an effective and fair evaluation system. That’s why it reaffirms the role of collective bargaining in determining how to use the test results in the evaluation process. No threshold percentage is included in the legislation telling districts how much of the evaluation is to be based on test results - this means it can be as much or as little as the local collective bargaining process determines and will still only be one of the multiple measures. It must be certified as a valid methodology by the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the TPEP steering committee. In this way, local control is maintained and each district can craft a policy that works for them.
This legislation is intended to target specifically only what the Department of Education directed is necessary to maintain the waiver. If this bill is adopted, there will be no further changes to our evaluation systems around the state for at least three years, and even then, only with the direct input of educators.
Now, I recognize for some any use of the state based assessments (or any testing at all) is the wrong policy for evaluations even if it counts for only 1%. I know there continues to be concern about implementation of the SBAC. The emails I received have been against the entire testing regime our students and educators face. The argument is that the use of any summative tests are wrong when there are so many external factors their students face: poverty, lack of family support, health challenges, etc. Educators take students as they come and do the best they can with what they are presented. I don’t disagree that these factors must be considered when evaluating our educators. But that is why the use of assessments are one of multiple measures and in practice are only a small percentage of an evaluation. In voting for SB 5748, I believe I took the necessary but minimal steps to restore the NCLB waiver. The bill will not put any educator’s job in jeopardy over a single test.
But, I also want you to know this – in reading all of the comments and email I have received – I realize I need to better acknowledge where our educators and parents are coming from on the proliferation of tests, their use and misuse. I am going to be more open minded and work to continue the conversation so we can strike the right – and fair – approach for both students and educators. For example, I recently had a discussion with State Superintendent Dorn where he suggested to me an alternative way of using the Smarter Balanced Assessment one time in high school and not for the purposes of a graduation requirement. I am going to be listening and be more open to these discussions and ideas. It is conceivable that in the near future the SBAC, and its use as a graduation requirement, may be modified. I am open to taking a hard look at this.
Thank you for your patience in receiving my response and reading this long discussion. I wanted to lay out in detail for you my reasons for voting for this amendment and the factors I was trying to balance. I believe I have compiled a strong record in support of public education and educators during my time in office. Let me know if you would like to hear more about what I have done and tried to do, the other bills I have sponsored and supported, and the work I have done to meet our McCleary funding obligations. I will be happy to send you any further information.
Again, thank you for letting me hear your concerns and for reading this letter.
Senator David Frockt
46th District of Washingtonhttp://sdc.wastateleg.org/