State Senate advances teacher evaluation bill

  • Tue Feb 14th, 2012 7:09pm
  • News

By Donna Gordon Blankinship Associated Press

SEATTLE — Washington state on Tuesday took another step toward using improvement in student test scores as a factor in hiring, firing and tenure decisions for teachers.

The state Senate approved a bipartisan compromise bill that says teachers must be evaluated on eight measures, including improvement in student learning on a vote of 46-3.

If the bill passes the House and is signed by the governor, starting in the 2015-16 school year, those evaluation results would be used as a factor in human resource decisions.

Senate Bill 5895 also sets some new guidelines for principals, including a requirement to use teacher feedback in principal evaluations.

Many lawmakers called the measure a move in the right direction, but others lamented that education reform moves too slowly in this state.

“It is a giant step forward to making sure every kid, regardless of where they live in the state of Washington, has an excellent teacher,” said Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, one of the lawmakers who worked out a compromise in Gov. Chris Gregoire’s office.

Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, voted in favor of the bill and said he hoped it would make a difference, but he didn’t think any of the more progressive states would be impressed by Washington’s education reform efforts.

He said lawmakers would need to keep a close eye on the process to make sure the evaluation system delivers on its promises. Tom suggested a more effective way toward improving Washington’s schools would be to rank every teacher in each school district according to their evaluation and then fire the bottom 1 percent each year.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, who came down to the Senate to watch the debate, said it was virtually the bill she wanted to see and commended the negotiators.

“The folks at the table were thoughtful, and I think by the end of the day Washington state comes out as a model for the rest of the country,” Gregoire said.

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 district to choose from instead of having local teachers and administrators design the system.

Sen. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, one of three Democrats to vote against the measure, said he opposed the measure because it would interfere with a reform process that’s already succeeding at the local level. He blamed the debate over teacher evaluations for Tacoma’s 2010 teachers’ strike.

The proposal 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 classroom teachers should be observed.

New teachers and principals in their first three years, as well as those who received a Level 1 or Level 2 rating in the previous year, would get annual comprehensive evaluations. Others would get less comprehensive yearly evaluations that focused more on specific areas of their work.

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 said Tuesday they have some concerns about the evaluation bill, but are not as worried about this bill as they are about a proposal to revamp teacher health insurance.

“That’s a direct attack on our collective bargaining,” Mary Lindquist said of the insurance bill. The teacher evaluation measure leaves many details up to the local bargaining unit.

The education vote came in the final hours before a deadline in which all policy bills must move out of their original chambers. Lawmakers also scrambled to move ahead with a number of other measures, including stringent rules requiring academic officials to report suspected child abuse, a plan that would require the governor’s office to produce six-year budget outlooks and a measure allowing tolls to rebuild the Interstate 5 bridge connecting Portland and Vancouver.

State senators also voted to try and revive a tax incentive program designed to lure movie production to the state. The tax program offers a 30 percent rebate off the amount of money spent in the state but expired last July after the state House declined to take a vote on the issue.

Some other bills didn’t get a vote, including a plan that would have allowed local governments to regulate medical marijuana.