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Delaware moving toward second delay on teacher evaluations

(NewsWorks/FILE)

(NewsWorks/FILE)

Delaware teachers won’t be judged by how their students perform on this year’s Smarter Balanced assessments. And it’s looking like they’ll get a second reprieve in 2015-16.

[UPDATE, 3/18, 11:50 am]

The Delaware Department of Education is now officialy asking the federal government for an extension that will delay the use of Smarter Balanced scores to evaluate teachers. If the extension is approved by the state Board of Education and the U.S. Department of Education, Delaware teachers will not be punished or rewarded based on how their students perform on the new exam until 2017 at the earliest.

“Delaware is sending a message to the federal government that using scores from a new standardized test to grade teachers needs to be examined and implemented very carefully,” said Rep. Sean Lynn, D-Dover, in a statement. “I’m pleased that the administration heard our case and agreed with our position.”

Lynn was among 24 legislators who pushed the department to request an extension.

Though the department initially resisted the idea, Secretary of Education Mark Murphy said Wednesday that community pushback convinced him to change course.

“We have been listening to feedback from many of our stakeholders, including our teachers and state representatives, on this important issue, and we will make this request on their behalf,” said Murphy in a statement.

—End Update—

Delaware teachers won’t be judged by how their students perform on this year’s Smarter Balanced assessments. And it’s looking like they’ll get a second reprieve in 2015-16.

The state recently added language to its annual Elementary and Secondary Education Act flexibility waiver asking the federal government for a second year to adjust to the new test, which is being rolled out this year.

As of Tuesday, a redline version of the document reads:

“DDOE previously requested flexibility to not include student achievement results from the state assessment in educator evaluations in the first year of implementation of the new state assessment in English Language Arts/Math (SBAC, 2014-2015). Based on overwhelming feedback from several education associations, state legislative leaders, and other groups of key stakeholders, DDOE is now requesting an additional year extension beyond 2014-2015.”

That clause, dense as it may sound, represents a significant concession on the part of the Delaware Department of Education.

Originally, the state sought just a one-year delay on tying students’ Smarter Balanced test scores to teacher evaluations. In early March, however, Newsworks/WHYY obtained a letter signed by 24 state legislators asking Governor Jack Markell to request a second delay so that teachers and students would have more time to adjust to the new exam. Within that letter, the legislators claimed they’d already brought the issue before the Delaware Department of Education but had been turned aside.

On Tuesday, many of those same legislators ramped up the pressure by introducing a bill in the state house that would require the Department of Education to ask for a second delay.

All the while, Markell vowed to coordinate meetings between the legislators, the Delaware Department of Education, and the U.S. Department of Education to establish, as he put it, a “positive path forward.”

Now it appears, at least on the surface, that the new path will involve asking the federal government for another delay. That request, if granted, means Smarter Balanced results will not be used to punish or reward teachers until 2017 at the earliest.

Obstacles, however, remain.

The Department of Education will present its newly revised flexibility waiver to the state’s Board of Education on Thursday for final approval. Donna Johnson, executive director of the state board, previously told Newsworks/WHYY that her body opposed another delay on teacher accountability as it relates to Smarter Balanced.

The state must submit a flexibility waiver by March 31 or else risk losing leeway in how it spends federal dollars.

The tug-of-war over teacher evaluations and Smarter Balanced adds to a growing caucophony over how Delaware tests students and what it does with that information.

Last week, Markell announced a new testing inventory that will allow the state and its districts to account for all the tests they gave and, the Governor hopes, eliminate redudant ones. In that same announcement, however, he stood by Smarter Balanced as a necessary tool for guaging student learning, teacher effectiveness, and administrative know-how.

The new test, which is aligned with Common Core standards, has caused considerable anxiety in Delaware and around the country. It promises to be more difficult than the test it is replacing–known as DCAS–and many parents have vowed to opt their children out of the exam in protest.

More on this story as it becomes available.

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