Education Week reports that even though 34 states and the District of Columbia have No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) waivers in hand, many of them are still negotiating with the U.S. Department of Education (ED) over their teacher-evaluation systems – a crucial component if they want to keep their new-found flexibility. More than six months after waiver recipients turned in their guidelines to ED, only 12 waiver states have gotten the green light for their evaluation systems. ED officials expect to start sending more approval letters soon, along with notices on which plans need more work.
The slow approval process comes as states continue to pilot their evaluation systems, grapple with issues such as evaluating teachers in non-tested subjects, and figure out how to make student growth a significant factor in teacher ratings – all on a tight timeline dictated for the most part by ED.
The Obama Administration is offering the NCLB waivers as Congress struggles to rewrite the outdated federal accountability law, the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In exchange for flexibility on key tenets of the 11-year-old law enacted under President George W. Bush – such as that all students be proficient in reading and mathematics by the end of the next school year – states had to agree to have many strings attached. Chief among them: Adopt teacher- and principal-evaluation systems that incorporate student academic growth as a “significant factor” and are used in making personnel decisions.
But states are not entirely clear on what satisfies ED’s requirements for an acceptable teacher-evaluation system. For example, what is the minimum needed to ensure student growth is a “significant” factor? ED officials say they have generally approved systems in which student growth counts for between 20 percent and 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. But also acceptable is a “trigger” mechanism, like one in Arkansas, where a teacher cannot be rated as “effective” if he or she fails to meet expectations for student growth. Another acceptable method is a matrix system, like one in Massachusetts, in which student growth does not receive a specific weighting but is coupled with other measures, such as unannounced teacher observations.
Still unclear is what ED means by informing “personnel decisions.” ED officials say that for defining personnel decisions, they relied heavily on peer reviewers of states’ evaluation plans, but that what was approved varied greatly by state. Some states spell out consequences tied to evaluations in law; others leave it up to districts.
For states, the biggest issue is how much flexibility ED officials will allow as they design and implement their evaluation systems, said Janice Poda, Director of the Strategic Initiative for the Education Workforce at the Council of Chief State School Officers. “The states have had different degrees of success,” she said. Complying with the federally driven teacher-evaluation rules, she said, “is almost like the price the states have to pay in order to get flexibility in the other areas.”
Using student growth to evaluate teachers in non-tested subjects is one of several challenges states are facing, ED officials say. Among other tricky issues: how multiple measures used to evaluate teachers are rolled into one performance rating; how to appropriately judge teachers of English-language learners and special education students; and how to deal with special situations, like co-teaching.
Source: Education Week, 3/6/13, by Michele McNeil
[Editor's Note, in September 2012, Legal Clips summarized a U.S. Department of Education announcement that, by that time, 44 states had requested or been approved for NCLB waivers in exchange for state-developed plans to prepare all students for college and career, focus aid on the neediest students, and support effective teaching and leadership.]