Oregon has won a three-year reprieve from key provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind school accountability law, officials announced Thursday.

The sticking point had been the federal requirement that teachers be evaluated in part based on growth in their students’ standardized test scores.

The Oregon Department of Education managed to convince federal regulators it will take that long-delayed step and will do it in a meaningful way, Ann Whalen, senior adviser to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, wrote in her letter conveying the federal OK.

Oregon pledged that teachers and principals in every school district will be evaluated in part on their students’ test scores, starting in 2016.

Oregon teachers had long resisted efforts to grade them in part on their students’ growth on standardized tests, arguing that test scores are a poor measurement of the breadth and depth of their work.

But the Oregon Department of Education, the state’s teachers union and the pro-teacher quality group Chalkboard Project agreed several years to come up with a nuanced, Oregon-specific way to do it. They had not, until now, convinced the federal government it was stringent and air-tight enough to meet federal approval.

Duncan has made judging teachers in part by test scores an absolute requirement for any state that wants to be freed from spending requirements imposed on schools that fall short of extremely demanding No Child Left Behind standards. Schools that don’t meet those standards must divert 20 percent of their federal funding to pay to bus students to other schools or provide them free outside tutoring.

Washington State has been the proving grounds for that rule. Washington’s legislature refused to require the use of test score in teacher evaluations, and Washington was put back under those No Child Left Behind rules.

Oregon will use student scores on the Smarter Balanced tests as a small part of how a teacher’s performance will be judged, beginning in 2016. And teachers and principals will have a lot of leeway in deciding which scores to use and how.

For teachers in grades four through eight and in grade 11 who teach reading, English or math, Smarter Balanced test score gains will make up a small part of the performance evaluation. The teacher, in consultation with the principal, will decide which scores will be used and what magnitude of test score gain is considered adequate.

— Betsy Hammond


OR ESEA flexibility renewal letter 7.23.2015.pdf

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