By Donna Gordon Blankinship Associated Press
SEATTLE — Washington state has taken another step toward saying goodbye to the federal No Child Left Behind law.
In July, the U.S. Department of Education gave Washington a conditional waiver from some requirements of the federal education law, including the need for every child to pass statewide reading and math tests by 2014.
On Wednesday, state education officials mailed an update on their progress toward meeting those conditions and on Thursday had a conversation with U.S. Department of Education officials.
Nothing is final, but state officials are optimistic the state will climb all the steps required by the federal government.
More than 30 states have been granted waivers, and Washington is one of a handful that still needs to fulfill some conditions to make its waiver permanent.
All the waivers are considered a temporary measure while U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan continues to work with Congress to rewrite the No Child Left Behind law.
The two conditions of Washington state’s waiver included finishing development of a new state teacher and principal evaluation system, and completing a school accountability system, said Bob Harmon, assistant state superintendent for special programs and federal accountability.
“Both of those are in progress,” he said. “They’re checking to make sure we are implementing as we said we would and seem satisfied with us at this point.”
There’s still work to be finished and Harmon and his team will be checking back with federal officials in March, he said. They expect to have the waiver finalized before school starts next fall. That’s also when every school district in the state is expected to implement a new teacher and principal evaluation system that depends in part on measuring improvement in student test scores.
Washington’s waiver application emphasized its embrace of new national education standards, the state’s new teacher and principal evaluations, and its efforts to take a broader look at student achievement beyond reading and math by also testing for writing and science.
The waiver agreement requires that by 2018, Washington cut in half achievement gaps between various ethnic and economic groups, when compared with 100 percent passage rates. For example, if one group had 74 percent passing reading in 2011, that group would need to have 87 percent passing by 2018.
The state’s new school accountability system also is required to give parents a better idea of how their children’s schools are doing. But instead of failing or passing the requirements of No Child Left Behind, the new system does not punish schools that are making progress but not meeting every goal, explains Harmon.
Under the old system, a school could miss one of 37 objectives and be considered failing. The new system focuses more on progress, with each school having its own goals, and continues to pay the most attention to schools that are truly failing.
“I wouldn’t say it’s easier. I think it is more fair,” Harmon said.
Lawmakers have proposed a few bills that would make more changes in the teacher and principal and evaluation system or the school accountability program. One proposal would give schools a letter grade instead of more general assessments like good or fair. Another would force districts to give more weight to student test scores in teacher evaluations.