The U.S. Department of Education is warning Kansas that it is in danger of losing its waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law because teachers in Kansas still are not being evaluated on the basis of how well their students score on standardized reading and math tests.
State education officials, however, insist they are on schedule in developing that new system, and they will have it in place for use by most districts in the 2014-15 school year.
Assistant U.S. Education Secretary Deborah Delisle said in a letter Wednesday that she had placed Kansas on “high risk status,” but that the waiver would be extended through the end of this school year provided the state responds within 30 days with detailed plans explaining how it intends to implement new evaluations.
"At this time, Kansas has not demonstrated that the method it has selected actually results in including student growth as a significant factor and that the system as proposed meaningfully differentiates among teachers," the letter states.
“We don't believe we're high risk, but we do believe we're on track as a state to move forward,” Brad Neuenswander, the state's deputy education commissioner for learning services, said in response.
In May 2012, the U.S. Department of Education granted Kansas a conditional waiver from the No Child Left Behind law. Currently, 40 states and the District of Columbia have received similar waivers.
Among other things, the waiver means Kansas schools do not have to meet that law's mandate that 100 percent of students score proficient or better on reading and math tests that will be given at the end of this school year.
Instead, schools are now required to show continual improvement in proficiency rates and closing achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students, using several different measures of student growth and achievement.
In addition, however, states receiving the waivers are required to adopt new teacher evaluation systems that are based in significant part on how well their students score on standardized tests.
Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker said last year that was a major sticking point in negotiations over Kansas' waiver.
The state was then already in the process of developing a new model evaluation system called KEEP – the Kansas Educator Evaluation Protocol - but it did not yet include a component for using student achievement as part of the evaluation.
It would take another year, the 2012-13 school year, to develop that component, state officials said, plus another year after that to pilot test the new system before Kansas could fully implement it.
In the end, the federal government agreed to give Kansas time to develop and implement that system. The State Board of Education then formed a group called the Teaching in Kansas Commission, or TIKC, that included agency staff, administrators and teachers union representatives to develop the new component.
“The U.S. Department of Education wanted us to do it last year, but we said we're not ready,” Neuenswander said.
He noted that Kansas has at least five years of data on student test scores, but only two years of data matching those students to individual teachers.
“We have the engine built and designed to do it,” Neuenswander said. “But before we send it out, we want to make sure it's completely accurate.”
School districts in Kansas are not required to use the new KEEP system. But they are required to adopt some evaluation that meets the requirements of the waiver.
The Lawrence school district has said it will not use the state's KEEP system because it has developed its own evaluation protocol. That system is being implemented this year for first-year teachers and will be applied to all teachers next year, district spokeswoman Julie Boyle said.