In March, Washington state lawmakers ended the legislative session without passing a bill to incorporate student test scores in teacher-principal evaluation systems. As a result, Washington became the first state to lose its No Child Left Behind waiver, along with control of $40 million in federal funding. The U.S. Department of Education requires states that have received waivers to use statewide standardized tests as a factor in evaluations.
Legislators need to move past the debate on whether to use testing data in evaluations. The failure to pass the bill puts Washington’s evaluation system behind the rest of the country. Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia Public Schools have already changed their laws to require that measures of student achievement be a significant or the most significant factor in teacher evaluations. The new generation of evaluations is here to stay.
Critics can argue over what measures of student achievement are the most accurate, or how much these measures should factor into evaluation ratings. But these arguments miss the bigger picture: When executed properly, evaluations can help guide teachers’ professional development. Only after Washington state law is changed can lawmakers and district leaders begin focusing on what will really make a difference for our teachers and students: evaluations that help teachers get better.
So what is the key to maximizing an evaluation system’s potential to help teachers improve their craft? Important lessons can be drawn from early adopters of the new generation of evaluation systems. In the 2012-2013 academic year, an urban school district serving Houston piloted a system that incorporated both classroom observations and student learning measures.