Dispute over test scores puts federal education funds at risk

OLYMPIA – A dispute on how student test scores are used in evaluating teachers threatens to leave school districts unable to spend millions of dollars the way they want on instruction for their lowest performing students.

State law says scores on statewide assessments are one factor that can be used in determining the performance of teachers and principals, but it’s not the only way. If districts prefer, they instead can use student scores on school-based, classroom-based or district-wide tests.

But federal education officials say scores on state tests must be used if Washington hopes to get an extension on its waiver from the federal law known as the No Child Left Behind Act.

The waiver, which expires in August, will net the state roughly $38 million in this school year.

On Sunday, Gov. Jay Inslee met with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to find out if he is really prepared to ding the state if it doesn’t change its teacher evaluation system. The sit-down occurred in Washington D.C. where Inslee had traveled for a meeting of the National Governors Association.

“Our discussion today was productive. I think there’s a possibility to develop a positive path forward that has a realistic chance of success,” Inslee said in a statement.

The governor said he would be discussing “our options” with lawmakers and Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn upon his return to Olympia.

“Time is short this session so I hope we can reach resolution quickly, and I’ll have more to say in the coming days,” he said.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, who serves on the Senate panel which handles education policy, also urged Duncan to extend the waiver when they two recently spoke.

“Although Senator Murray can’t offer any blanket assurances that the waiver will be granted, she is committed to continuing to advocate for its extension because she understands the impact losing (the money) would have on schools,” her spokesman Matt McAlvanah said in an email.

The federal education law set a 2014 deadline for every child in the nation to be reading and doing math at grade level. States that meet certain requirements regarding student growth and evaluating teachers, including using test data in the evaluations, have been granted waivers from the law.

Washington obtained a conditional waiver in 2011 as it was in the process of setting up its evaluation process. In August 2013 it received a one-year extension.

At that time, the U.S. Department of Education made clear state test scores must be one of the measures of student growth used.

Inslee said he planned to present new proposals to Duncan on how the state can satisfy the demands of the federal agency. Inslee said they are a result of conversations with lawmakers and Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn, but would not divulge details.

“I think we’re going to have a pretty unified approach,” Inslee said.

That would be a change from what’s transpired in the Legislature to date.

The House hasn’t seriously considered any bills modifying the evaluation system. When the Senate did last week, 21 Democrats and seven conservative Republicans banded together to block it.

Lawmakers in both parties say they want the extension. Yet for now majorities in the House and Senate contend the state’s year-old evaluation system will hold teachers and principals accountable for the performance of students as the federal department demands, without making any changes.

“Our teachers and principals have built a very strong evaluation system, probably the strongest in the nation. We need to quit changing it every year,” said Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell. “We cannot lose this waiver. But if we’d allowed that bill to pass, the governor wouldn’t be in the game when he meets with the secretary. Who would care?”

McAuliffe has come under fire because the bill she voted against last week is nearly identical to one she authored in January.

She said she’s come to the conclusion the state’s standardized tests do not measure student growth as envisioned by the federal law because they are only “dipsticks in time.” And with the state changing tests next year, any revisions should be put off until then, she said.

Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, sponsored Senate Bill 5246 which went down in defeat last week. He said he stripped out the most controversial language and all that essentially remained was changing “can to must” on the use of the test scores.

“If we do not continue the waiver, the penalties are severe,” he said in the floor debate. “The Obama Administration has been very clear that they will not provide the waiver to our state.”

One consequence of losing the waiver is nearly every school in the state would have to inform parents that their child attends a school that, in the eyes of the federal government, is failing.

Another is school districts would have to spend their allotments on services such as off-campus tutoring programs for low-performing students and transportation needed to get those students to the tutors.

Funding associated with the waiver is substantial

In the 2011-12 school year, it amounted to $658,279 for the Everett School District, $366,968 for the Edmonds School District and $467,403 for the Mukilteo School District, according to figures released by the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus. Most districts are getting more money in the figure is higher for the current school year.

Superintendent Ken Hoover of the Monroe School District doesn’t want to lose the waiver and the roughly $100,000 it means for his district.

“I’m still cautiously optimistic,” he said of retaining the waiver. “Our legislators are interested in doing what makes sense. It’s a matter of coalescing behind that message.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Traffic idles while waiting for the lights to change along 33rd Avenue West on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Lynnwood seeks solutions to Costco traffic boondoggle

Let’s take a look at the troublesome intersection of 33rd Avenue W and 30th Place W, as Lynnwood weighs options for better traffic flow.

A memorial with small gifts surrounded a utility pole with a photograph of Ariel Garcia at the corner of Alpine Drive and Vesper Drive ion Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Death of Everett boy, 4, spurs questions over lack of Amber Alert

Local police and court authorities were reluctant to address some key questions, when asked by a Daily Herald reporter this week.

The new Amazon fulfillment center under construction along 172nd Street NE in Arlington, just south of Arlington Municipal Airport. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald) 20210708
Frito-Lay leases massive building at Marysville business park

The company will move next door to Tesla and occupy a 300,0000-square-foot building at the Marysville business park.

Deborah Wade (photo provided by Everett Public Schools)
Everett teacher died after driving off Tulalip road

Deborah Wade “saw the world and found beauty in people,” according to her obituary. She was 56.

Snohomish City Hall on Friday, April 12, 2024 in Snohomish, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Snohomish may sell off old City Hall, water treatment plant, more

That’s because, as soon as 2027, Snohomish City Hall and the police and public works departments could move to a brand-new campus.

Lewis the cat weaves his way through a row of participants during Kitten Yoga at the Everett Animal Shelter on Saturday, April 13, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Downward cat? At kitten yoga in Everett, it’s all paw-sitive vibes

It wasn’t a stretch for furry felines to distract participants. Some cats left with new families — including a reporter.

FILE - In this Friday, March 31, 2017, file photo, Boeing employees walk the new Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner down towards the delivery ramp area at the company's facility in South Carolina after conducting its first test flight at Charleston International Airport in North Charleston, S.C. Federal safety officials aren't ready to give back authority for approving new planes to Boeing when it comes to the large 787 jet, which Boeing calls the Dreamliner, Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022. The plane has been plagued by production flaws for more than a year.(AP Photo/Mic Smith, File)
Boeing pushes back on Everett whistleblower’s allegations

Two Boeing engineering executives on Monday described in detail how panels are fitted together, particularly on the 787 Dreamliner.

Ferry workers wait for cars to start loading onto the M/V Kitsap on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Struggling state ferry system finds its way into WA governor’s race

Bob Ferguson backs new diesel ferries if it means getting boats sooner. Dave Reichert said he took the idea from Republicans.

Traffic camera footage shows a crash on northbound I-5 near Arlington that closed all lanes of the highway Monday afternoon. (Washington State Department of Transportation)
Woman dies almost 2 weeks after wrong-way I-5 crash near Arlington

On April 1, Jason Lee was driving south on northbound I-5 near the Stillaguamish River bridge when he crashed into a car. Sharon Heeringa later died.

Owner Fatou Dibba prepares food at the African Heritage Restaurant on Saturday, April 6, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Oxtail stew and fufu: Heritage African Restaurant in Everett dishes it up

“Most of the people who walk in through the door don’t know our food,” said Fatou Dibba, co-owner of the new restaurant at Hewitt and Broadway.

A pig and her piglets munch on some leftover food from the Darrington School District’s cafeteria at the Guerzan homestead on Friday, March 15, 2024, in Darrington, Washington. Eileen Guerzan, a special education teacher with the district, frequently brings home food scraps from the cafeteria to feed to her pigs, chickens and goats. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
‘A slopportunity’: Darrington school calls in pigs to reduce food waste

Washingtonians waste over 1 million tons of food every year. Darrington found a win-win way to divert scraps from landfills.

Foamy brown water, emanating a smell similar to sewage, runs along the property line of Lisa Jansson’s home after spilling off from the DTG Enterprises property on Tuesday, March 5, 2024, in Snohomish, Washington. Jansson said the water in the small stream had been flowing clean and clear only a few weeks earlier. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Neighbors of Maltby recycling facility assert polluted runoff, noise

For years, the DTG facility has operated without proper permits. Residents feel a heavy burden as “watchdogs” holding the company accountable.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.