Politics & Government

Lawmakers consider evaluating educators

As state lawmakers debate how to meet federal demands that statewide tests be used in teacher evaluations, some want to see more districts adopt labor policies that they say are working in Tacoma and Seattle.

But district and union leaders in those cities aren’t as enthusiastic about some of the ideas floating around in the state Senate — even though they’re being credited for some of them.

A proposal that cleared a Senate education panel Jan. 20 would use students’ scores on statewide tests to create a rank order of teachers and principals, and then identify the bottom quartile of employees as needing additional support.

Sen. Steve Litzow, a Mercer Island Republican who is sponsoring the legislation, said he borrowed the ranking idea from Seattle Public Schools, which looks at student scores on statewide tests to help identify teachers and principals who may need extra coaching.

“I thought it was a good model,” said Litzow, who chairs the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee.

But a Seattle Public Schools official said she thinks Litzow’s bill may misinterpret how Seattle’s system works, and his proposal right now isn’t something the district would support.

Seattle Public Schools uses changes in students’ scores on statewide tests — often called student growth data — to identify teachers as having either a high growth score, a typical growth score or low growth score, said Clover Codd, the district’s executive director of strategic planning and partnerships. Teachers and principals with a low growth score receive additional observation and feedback, she said.

Unlike Litzow’s proposal, however, Seattle’s system doesn’t automatically identify a set percentage of teachers as low-performing, Codd said.

“We don’t believe in language that talks about ranking teachers,” Codd said Friday. “That’s not our philosophy.”

Another part of Litzow’s bill would seek to diminish the use of seniority in school districts’ personnel decisions such as firing teachers or forcing them to move to a different school. State law already requires districts to use other factors such as teachers’ areas of expertise and student growth data in personnel decisions, but doesn’t specify how a big of a part each should play.

Now Litzow wants to relegate seniority to a mere tie-breaker. It’s an idea pulled from Tacoma’s teacher contract, he said.

Tacoma teachers went on strike in 2011 partly over a disagreement between teachers and the district over how large of a role seniority should play in decisions to move teachers between buildings. A compromise worked out over more than eight months ultimately resulted in an agreement that seniority could be used as a tie-breaker in personnel decisions, but wouldn’t be the only deciding factor.

Carla Santorno, superintendent of Tacoma Public Schools, said that using seniority as a tie-breaker has worked well in Tacoma, but she said it was “a huge process” for district officials and the union to reach that compromise. She said she thinks it is important for districts elsewhere to go through that process on their own.

“I’d hate to dictate anything for the rest of the districts in the state,” Santorno said.

Adrienne Dale, president of the Tacoma Education Association, agreed.

“We worked together for a year with our district tearing the thing apart, working on it together to come up with a model that works for us in Tacoma,” Dale said. “That’s what everyone should be doing. No one should be saying in the Legislature, ‘this is how we’re going to displace you,’ because every district is different.”

At the same time, there is a part of Litzow’s proposal that school districts such as Seattle and Tacoma desperately want to see pass the Legislature. Senate Bill 5246 would also require that school districts use statewide tests — not local ones — in teacher and principal evaluations, a fix the federal government has said Washington must make to maintain its waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act.

Litzow said he doesn’t think the state should ignore U.S. Department of Education’s request that lawmakers fix Washington’s teacher evaluation law. But he said he thinks there is room for compromise on some of the details.

“I’m sure we’ll figure out a way to work our way through it,” Litzow said. “This is a federal issue.”

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209 melissa.santos@