Secretary’s Letter to Washington ESEA Flexibility
April 24, 2014
Honorable Randy Dorn Superintendent of Public Instruction State Department of Public Instruction P.O. Box 47200 Olympia, WA 98504
Dear Superintendent Dorn:
This letter responds to your letter of March 27, 2014, in which you formally requested a one-year extension of the flexibility I granted to Washington under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). I appreciate your continuing interest in ESEA flexibility and was pleased to hear that, as a State leader, you believe it has enabled school improvement efforts in Washington to significantly increase student achievement.
As you know, Washington’s request for ESEA flexibility was approved based on Washington’s commitments to carry out certain actions in support of key education reforms. In return for those commitments, we granted your State and your local school districts significant flexibility. However, Washington has not been able to keep all of its commitments. Thus, although Washington has benefitted from ESEA flexibility, I regret that Washington’s flexibility will end with the 2013–2014 school year.
One of the commitments that Washington — and every State that received ESEA flexibility — made was to put in place teacher and principal evaluation and support systems that take into account information on student learning growth based on high-quality college- and career-ready (CCR) State assessments as a significant factor in determining teacher and principal performance levels, along with other measures of professional practice such as classroom observations. These systems also require that all teachers and principals receive robust, timely, and meaningful feedback on their performance and support in order to inform and improve instruction so that all students meet the expectations of new CCR standards. Including student learning growth as a significant factor among the multiple measures used to determine performance levels is important as an objective measure to differentiate among teachers and principals who have made significantly different contributions to student learning growth and closing achievement gaps.
Because Washington first made that commitment in its waiver application of February 27, 2012, and Washington was unable to take the steps necessary to fulfill that commitment even after having been given an additional school year (2012–2013) to do so, it was placed on high-risk status on August 14, 2013. Washington’s high-risk designation specified that the State must submit, by May 1, 2014, final guidelines for teacher and principal evaluation and support systems that meet the requirements of ESEA flexibility, including requiring local educational agencies (LEAs) to use student achievement on CCR State assessments to measure student learning growth in those systems for teachers of tested grades and subjects. Your March 27, 2014, letter indicates that the State will be unable to provide such guidelines. I recognize that requiring the use of statewide assessments to measure student learning growth requires a legislative change, and that Governor Inslee and your office worked diligently to obtain that change. I thank you for your leadership and courage in those efforts.
However, because those efforts were unsuccessful, and your legislature is not scheduled to reconvene until January 2015, I cannot extend Washington’s authority to implement ESEA flexibility, and Washington and its LEAs must resume implementing the requirements of Title I of the ESEA, as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), as well as all other ESEA requirements that were waived under ESEA flexibility, for the 2014–2015 school year. This means that, among other actions that the State and LEAs will have to resume, LEAs in Washington must once again set aside 20 percent of their Title I funds for public school choice and supplemental educational services rather than having the flexibility to use those funds for other activities to improve student achievement in low-achieving schools. Should Washington obtain the requisite authority to resolve its condition, I would be pleased to reconsider Washington’s request to implement ESEA flexibility at any time.
I appreciate that transitioning back to NCLB is not desirable, and will not be simple. Attached for your reference is a list of NCLB requirements with which the State and its LEAs must resume complying starting with the 2014–2015 school year. Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Deborah Delisle will follow up with you to discuss the transition and help you think about ways to preserve the gains Washington has made under ESEA flexibility.
Thank you again for your leadership and your efforts to keep the commitments Washington made in its ESEA flexibility request. Thank you, as well, for your continued focus on enhancing education for all of Washington’s children.