The Washington Legislature may get a chance to retake a test that it failed last month. If that chance indeed occurs, lawmakers would do well to do their homework on the issue and come up with the right answer this time.
The test involves a change to the state’s teacher-and-principal evaluation program. A legislative proposal that was considered in February would have required student scores from statewide assessment tests to comprise one factor in evaluating teachers and principals; right now, assessments may be used in evaluations, but the provision is subject to bargaining between teachers unions and school district administration.
Pressure is coming from Washington, D.C., where officials want test scores tied to evaluations as a way to reform public schools. Officials of the federal Department of Education say scores on state tests must be used if the state hopes to get an extension of its waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and the feds carry a hefty financial stick.
Losing the waiver means most schools in the state would be declared “failing” and would be limited in how they spend about $44 million in Title I dollars for programs designed to help low-income students. The money would go to supplemental educational services — defined as extra academic help like tutoring or remedial help — many of which are private tutoring entities that are not accountable to local districts,
Yakima Valley schools, of course, educate thousands of low-income students, and losing the waiver would imperil millions of dollars for local school districts. As examples, Yakima would lose control of more than $1.5 million, the fifth highest total in the state; Sunnyside $766,000, Wapato $443,000, Toppenish $394,000, Grandview $294,000, Granger $273,000, Ellensburg $139,000 and Mabton $120,000.
Legislators must have thought the feds were bluffing; last month, the state Senate considered Senate Bill 5246, which essentially would change the language from “can” to “must” on using test scores in evaluations. It was defeated on a 28-19 vote, the victim of an eccentric alliance in Olympia.
Teachers unions persuaded most of their Democratic allies to vote against the measure; joining them were several Republicans who say they oppose the federal government being so deeply involved in state education. Central Washington Sens. Curtis King of Yakima, Jim Honeyford of Sunnyside and Janéa Holmquist Newbry of Moses Lake — all Republicans — understood what was at stake and supported the bill.
The feds weren’t bluffing, as Education Secretary Arne Duncan informed Gov. Jay Inslee last weekend while Inslee was in D.C. for the National Governors Association winter meeting; Inslee said Duncan is not afraid to revoke the federal waiver and school districts’ control over the $44 million.
As a result, the governor and Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn now propose that scores be tied to teacher and principal evaluations starting in the 2017-18 year; the delay passes muster with Duncan and would allow the state more time to add this provision into its still relatively new evaluation standards, which are to be fully implemented statewide in the 2015-16 academic year.
The bill still must be drafted and studied by lawmakers, and at this point we’re in the legislative equivalent of cramming for the final exam; this year’s session is scheduled to end March 13. Even if legislators turn a deaf ear to teacher-principal accountability, the money should talk loud enough for the lesson to sink in amid the state Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling mandate that more funds be allocated to K-12 education.
Sens. King, Honeyford and Holmquist-Newbry have shown a mastery of the material in voting for SB5246. Given a second chance, legislators need to join them in supporting this measure and seeing it becomes law. The state can’t afford to have the Legislature flunk this test again.
• Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Sharon J. Prill, Bob Crider, Frank Purdy and Karen Troianello.