Kansas education officials seeking extension of No Child Left Behind waiver

Valley Center High School science teacher Jeff Tracy talks with his students about an experiment. (Sept. 7, 2012)
Valley Center High School science teacher Jeff Tracy talks with his students about an experiment. (Sept. 7, 2012) File photo

Kansas education officials say they plan to ask for an extension of their waiver from the No Child Left Behind law, saying they are no closer to installing a new teacher evaluation system than they were last summer.

Kansas was put on notice in August that it is at “high risk” of losing its waiver. U.S. Department of Education officials said Kansas had not taken enough steps to use student growth data – test scores or other measures – as part of teacher evaluations.

“We would be able to get our high-risk status removed immediately if we would tell them it’s a percentage – it’s 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, or it’s 50 percent,” said Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker.

“And we’ve said, in Kansas, we don’t want to do that. It needs to be a component, but we don’t believe that a weighting is fair.”

Kansas is one of a handful of states with a high-risk waiver. The waivers give states more flexibility in meeting some of the provisions of No Child Left Behind, including its mandate that every student at every school should be reading and doing math at grade level this year.

Federal officials said Kansas must have a plan with final guidelines for teacher evaluations by May 1 to continue its waiver beyond this school year. DeBacker said a new appeal will ask for another year of wiggle room as the state develops new teacher evaluations.

“We will resubmit it with wording that maybe is (more) appealing or appeasing … and see where we go,” she said. “There is a chance that we could either lose our waiver or have another conditional” one.

Randy Mousley, president of United Teachers of Wichita, said the union is open to considering new evaluation systems. But ones that judge teachers based on student test scores are “inherently flawed,” he said.

“These tests are supposedly designed to measure student achievement, but they’re not even really good at that,” Mousley said. “They’re not designed to test how well a teacher is teaching.”

In Wichita, teachers with fewer than five years’ experience are evaluated using the Charlotte Danielson framework. Peer coaches or principals look at teachers’ performance in four domains – planning and preparation, classroom environment, professionalism and instruction – and rate them from unsatisfactory to distinguished.

After the fifth year, teachers set annual goals based on the same framework. Currently, student growth or achievement is not included in evaluations, Mousley said.

“Every teacher has the responsibility to add to a student’s education, their knowledge,” Mousley said. “But to use tests that aren’t designed to judge the teacher to judge the teacher is fundamentally the wrong thing to do.”

In some states, test-based teacher evaluations are being challenged in court. The Florida Education Association filed suit last spring challenging that state’s 2011 teacher evaluation law, which says at least 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation should be based on student scores on standardized tests.

Because Florida has yet to develop end-of-course exams for subjects such as art, music or physical education, some districts used schoolwide averages for those teachers. Opponents said that meant some teachers were being rated on the performance of students they had never taught.

Teacher evaluation models in Kansas must be approved by the State Board of Education. Student achievement can be a component, but “it should be part of a whole battery,” DeBacker said. “It shouldn’t be one data point that determines whether you’re a successful teacher or not.”

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