Teacher evaluations to be based heavily on student achievement

Northern Virginia schools officially will base 40 percent of their teacher evaluations on students' academic achievement as the U.S. Department of Education approved Virginia's waiver for relief from the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

In seeking relief from the law, which requires all students to be proficient in math and reading by 2014, Virginia initially told the government that the 40 percent was a guideline. But the commonwealth's application was not approved, and Virginia had to resubmit the waiver.

"I realized ... our waiver was going to be dependent on putting teeth in student academic progress," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia Wright said.

Although some school districts are allowed another year to implement the new evaluations, Fairfax County Public Schools and other local districts have sketched out plans and are expecting to roll them out in the fall.

Currently, Fairfax weighs student achievement as an equal party among seven evaluation metrics, including "professionalism" and "instructional planning." With student achievement at 40 percent, it will trump the other six, each at 10 percent of a teacher's performance. A wide range of achievement measures, such as Advanced Placement scores or end-of-year portfolios, could count as student progress in Fairfax.

Still, speaking at a school board meeting earlier this month, Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President Steven Greenburg said he was "absolutely disgusted that the U.S. Department of Education would leverage" the evaluations so Virginia's application could be accepted.

School officials echoed that sentiment: "We don't have an official memo from Pat Wright saying it must be 40 percent, but they did put out this press release ... ," said Richard Moniuszko, deputy superintendent of Fairfax's school system.

Wright admitted some aspects of the waiver weren't ideal.

"In some respects, to receive the flexibility, we have had to accept some additional accountability requirements. There is a trade-off here," Wright told reporters.

For example, some very small schools and some schools with small ethnic subgroups that were previously free from the law now will fall under it.

The best part of the waiver, school officials say, is that it will allow school districts more flexibility in how they spend federal money to address the most struggling schools.

Instead of reaching 100 percent proficiency for 2014, Virginia has the goal to reduce the number of failing students by half. Instead of meeting "adequate yearly progress" benchmarks, Virginia will design its own annual goals; however, Wright said that will wait until the commonwealth rolls out new math and reading assessments.

Maryland already received a waiver, while federal officials are still considering the District's application.