State again eyes adding tests to teacher ratings

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SEATTLE — For the fourth time in as many years, the Washington Legislature is looking at teacher and principal evaluations, responding to federal government pressure to force school districts to judge performance partly on student test scores.

Three competing proposals are up for discussion today in the Senate Education Committee.

One would require school districts to give heavy weight to test scores — at least 50 percent in some sections of job performance reviews. The second would make test data a mandatory part of teacher and principal evaluations but not mandate a percentage.

The third bill, requested by the superintendent of public instruction, is similar to the second but delays implementation until the 2016-2017 school year.

If the evaluation law isn't changed to require test scores as a factor in evaluations, the state is in danger of losing federal dollars for education and a waiver from the federal government from the requirements of the No Child Left Behind law, education officials say.

Last year's revision of the state law gave districts some flexibility about how they might use testing data. Since teacher contracts are negotiated locally, districts are making their own decisions about how to interpret the law and most are not including state test scores in their evaluation systems.

The federal education law set a 2014 deadline for every child in the nation to be reading and doing math at grade level. The U.S. Department of Education has been granting waivers from that rule to states that meet certain requirements, including using test data in teacher evaluations.

Washington was given a conditional waiver to give it time to fix the system.

Rich Wood, a spokesman for the Washington Education Association, said decisions shouldn't be made based on speculation about what may happen in "dysfunctional Washington, D.C."

"It's flat out incorrect if anyone suggests that we will lose federal funding because of this issue," Wood said.