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House panel hears proposal aimed at regaining waiver from No Child Left Behind provisions

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SEATTLE — More than 300 people signed up to testify at a House Education Committee hearing on a bill that would require school districts to consider student test scores as a factor in teacher evaluations.

Although the testimony that was heard during the meeting on Monday in Olympia was evenly split between pro and con comments, 322 more wanted to speak against the bill but there wasn't enough time.

In addition to the large hearing room reserved for the committee meeting, another seven rooms were filled with people who watched testimony on video screens.

The proposal passed the Senate two weeks ago with bipartisan support but was expected to face a difficult climb in the Democrat-controlled House.

No vote has been scheduled in the House committee, which has no further meetings scheduled this week, even though Wednesday is the legislative deadline for policy bills to be voted out of committee.

Committee chair Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, said she had heard opposition to the proposal from both Democrats and Republicans in the House and public opinion on the measure seemed clear.

"The numbers say a lot," she said, of the people who signed up to speak against the measure.

The proposal could help Washington state regain the state's waiver from some parts of the federal No Child Left Behind education law.

Last year, Washington state lost its waiver after lawmakers refused to answer a demand by the federal government that they pass a similar proposal.

Senate Bill 5748 is different from last year's attempt, as it gives school districts more time to institute the change and would allow them to negotiate with teachers' unions over how much influence the test scores will have on evaluations.

Large numbers of parents and teachers came to Olympia to testify — both strongly encouraged to do so by advocacy groups and teachers unions — but neither parents nor teachers were monolithic in their opinions on the heavily debated proposal.

Those in favor of the bill spoke about the money that had been available through the federal waiver to provide more academic help for struggling students. They called for more teacher accountability and shared anecdotes about test scores improving when teachers are evaluated partly on student test scores.

Last year, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction estimated the state would lose control over how it spent nearly $40 million in federal dollars for these special academic programs if the state lost its waiver.

The state also was forced to return to an old way of evaluating its schools. More than 1,900 schools out of about 2,200 in Washington were labeled as failing in 2014 because of the No Child Left Behind system. Washington had a two-year reprieve from that system until the waiver was taken away in April 2014.

Tacoma Public Schools lobbyist Charlie Brown said the district could not afford to lose access to $1.8 million in federal dollars, which was the amount of federal money the district lost access to for most of this school year after the waiver was taken away.

"It's a lot of money and it serves the neediest children," Brown said. Some of that money was used to pay outside tutors for children in Tacoma.

Those who oppose the proposal say there is no dependable scientific evidence that student test scores show how good or bad a teacher is and that some districts found other money this year to help struggling students.

"This is bad science. Bad science leads to bad policies," said Justin Fox Bailey, an English teacher in the Snohomish School District and a union officer. He urged lawmakers to give school districts more time to adopt the new teacher evaluation system they already have before starting down a new path.

Superintendent Nick Brossoit of the Edmonds School District also spoke against the bill, even though many administrators favor of the proposal.

"Not having the waiver is a temporary problem," he said, referring to expected action in Congress to replace the federal education law with something that would make the waivers obsolete. "Let's not address one bad policy with another."

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