Feds will waive SIG teacher evaluation mandates, temporarily

Schools engaged in federally-sponsored restructuring under the School Improvement Grant program are being offered more time to meet educator evaluation requirements, the U.S. Department of Education announced.

Officials at the California Department of Education are anticipating applying for a waiver that will allow the state's two existing cohort of schools enrolled in the SIG program an additional year - 2013-14 - to meet the teacher and principal evaluation requirement.

In a letter to state school chiefs earlier this month, a top aide to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that the department has become aware of the difficulty many school districts face in getting the evaluation system into place.

The evaluations are a key component of the federal transformation model - one of four turnaround options that districts could employ within the SIG program. The transformation model is probably the most common option because school administrators generally view the other options - which include reopening a school as a charter or replacing 50 percent of the staff - as too drastic.

The federal waiver proposal comes as lawmakers in Sacramento only last week, sidelined legislation that would have revised the state's system for evaluating teachers and for the for the first time, called on school districts to use student outcomes as part of the performance analysis.

Michael Yudin, acting assistant U.S. Education Secretary, said in his letter that the educator evaluation system must take into account data on student academic growth as a significant factor as well as multiple observation-based assessments and graduation rates - among other elements.

To qualify for the waiver:

A school would have begun the transformation model during the 2010-11 school year (cohort one) and was not able to complete "development and implementation" of its evaluation systems during that year.

Schools would still be required to develop and implement a pilot program for evaluating teachers and principals no later than the 2012-13 school year. The piloted systems should be capable of being used for decisions regarding, for example, retention, promotion, compensation, and rewards, no later than the 2013-14 school year.

One issue raised by state officials is that by 2013-14, California's first cohort of SIG schools will no longer be covered under the three-year grant period. The question is whether those schools will continue to be required to use the evaluation system.

Expectations are that the Obama administration will continue to make teacher evaluations tied to student test scores a key component of any federal education grant and a likely element of a reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Yudin's letter also references the same deadlines for a state's second cohort of schools in the SIG program. In California, the second cohort has yet to be awarded any funds and has been pushed back a year.

A request by the CDE to participate in the SIG waiver offering is set to go before the California State Board of Education at their September meeting next week.

To read the waiver invitation from the U.S. Department of Education, click here:

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