Gregoire signs bill revamping teacher evaluations

SEATTLE — Gov. Chris Gregoire on Thursday signed a measure that will add improvement in student test scores to the list of factors that principals use to evaluate teachers.

The law also changes the way principals are evaluated, adding teacher feedback as an element of their reviews.

The measure builds on the four-level rating system established two years ago by the Legislature. But this time, the state will offer evaluation templates for school districts to choose from, instead of having teachers and administrators design local systems.

Gregoire said she expected the measure to make Washington a national model in teacher evaluations. Dozens of states are working on similar systems, but many are struggling to make them work.

She said Washington state succeeded by designing the system from the ground up, involving teachers, principals, parents, administrators, education researchers, lawmakers and community groups.

“This law will help ensure every public school student has the good teacher he or she deserves, and every neighborhood school has the good principal it deserves,” Gregoire said.

The measure goes into great detail about the way a poor evaluation could lead to a teacher being put on probation or losing his or her job. It also offers more specific guidelines concerning how often teachers should be observed in the classroom.

Student growth data — improvement in test scores from one period to the next — would be used in at least three of the eight criteria for both teachers and principals.

The president of the state’s largest teacher’s union, the Washington Education Association, expressed disappointment in the Legislature’s current approach to education reform.

Two years ago, lawmakers started a pilot project that had teachers, administrators and others work together to create a new local teacher evaluation system. This bill replaces that locally developed system with a more centralized approach, where districts can chose from a few predefined models.

School districts are required to start implementing the new system no later than the 2013-14 school year and complete implementation two years later.

“If you’re going to have meaningful, sustainable change, you have got to have the people who are closest to our students involved in that change,” said union president Mary Lindquist. “You can’t have these reforms being development behind closed doors by people who have never stood in front of a classroom.”

Gregoire said she thinks the bill is a move in the right direction without dismissing the work already done in the pilot projects.

“We think we’ve walked that fine line and accomplished something that respects and encourages continuing work on the evaluations and implementation, but at the same time moves us further down what we think is right for our kids and teachers and principals,” she said.

A coalition of business leaders and reform organizations applauded the new evaluation system.

“This law will help ensure that all Washington students receive a quality education from the teachers best able to prepare them for the future,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft executive vice president of Legal and Corporate Affairs.

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