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Washington

Washington Report Card

(Click on the table names to see the 50-state tables; click on grades to see the data behind them.)

Student Achievement
(NAEP exams)

4th graders "proficient"
in reading (1998)

29%

8th graders "proficient"
in reading (1998)

32%

8th graders "proficient"
in writing (1998)

25%

4th graders "proficient"
in math (1996)

21%

8th graders "proficient"
in math (1996)

26%

Standards and Accountability

C+

Improving
Teacher Quality
*

D-

School Climate

F

Resources

Adequacy

B-

Allocation

D+

Equity

B-

Comment: Washington plans to work on improving teacher quality next year, when a new licensing system goes into effect. But prospective high school teachers still will not be required to pass tests in their subjects. And, despite agreeing to raise teacher salaries, the legislature has not required that all novice teachers participate in an induction program. The state may improve its grade for "standards and accountability" next year, when a commission releases recommendations for intervening in low-performing schools.

* NOTE: State grades for "improving teacher quality" declined this year because of changes to the indicators.

The relationship between teacher power and teacher quality moved into the spotlight in Washington state in the spring of 1999, when local teachers' unions initiated a rash of school walkouts demanding better pay.

Teacher salaries—which are generally tied to the state's salary schedule under collective bargaining agreements—had been nearly stagnant since the legislature passed a wide-ranging education law in 1993. But during the same period, Washington's economy had surfed on a prosperity wave generated by its booming high-tech industry. Housing prices surged in the Puget Sound area, which, not coincidentally, was the hotbed of teacher unrest.

Teachers said their pay had slipped 15 percent behind inflation, even as they worked to align their methods with new state academic standards and prepare for statewide student assessments, now in their third year.

Lee Ann Prielipp, the president of the Washington Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, says the salary levels are affecting teacher quality. "In order to attract the best people to the profession and retain the people we have, we need adequate pay," she says.

The union, a National Education Association affiliate that represents about 67,000 school classified employees, teachers, and university personnel, did not officially endorse the school walkouts. But it embraced the cause of raising salaries and removing the state's 9-year-old government-spending cap, a major brake on pay increases.

Graduates of Washington's teacher colleges are heading for Nevada, Oregon, and Alaska, where salaries are higher, Prielipp says. Experienced teachers are flocking to private companies, she adds.

Compromise Plan

Vital Statistics
296 Public school districts
2,016 Public schools
1.0 million K-12 enrollment
23% Minority students
15% Children in poverty
11% Students with disabilities
$6.3 billion Annual K-12 expenditures (all revenue sources)
(See "Sources.")
State officials agree that a central pillar of school improvement—the state's corps of skilled teachers—is beginning to erode.

"There is lots of anecdotal evidence that teachers are leaving into the private sector. Teachers can go to the high-tech sector and double their salary," says Marc Frazer, a spokesman for the state office of public instruction.

But lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Gary Locke said they couldn't afford to meet the teachers' proposal of a 15 percent cost-of-living adjustment over two years.

Instead, they approved a compromise plan that will award teachers an average raise of 6 percent over two years, with greater increases going to new teachers and the most experienced teachers, in the fiscal 2000-01 biennial budget.

Terry Bergeson, the state schools superintendent, says the state could do more—besides paying more—to stop teachers from leaving.

"I think we lose people in their first five years, because they don't feel they're getting the help they need," she says.

WEA officials say the compromise plan will not quiet the rumbling for higher salaries.

On a related front, a new performance-based certification system for teachers, adopted by the state board of education in 1997, is scheduled to go into effect Aug. 31. But Bergeson, who sits on the board as an observer, says it might be delayed.

Under the plan, teachers will begin their careers with a "residency" certificate and move to a "professional" certificate only when they are able to demonstrate their ability in the classroom. The evaluations will be aligned to the state academic standards.

The state has tried to help teachers improve their professional skills in a number of ways.

Twelve regional learning and assessment centers provide help for teachers in preparing their students for the statewide assessments.

And a conference that the state education office holds every January—attended by about 1,800 teachers—will be focused increasingly on professional development, rather than its original purpose of informing educators about state initiatives. The office's summer professional institutes, attended by about 1,400 teachers, have a more intensive program of curriculum and training.

Bergeson says her office is expanding its analysis of student performance on the state assessments and is targeting professional development to address the areas where scores are low.

"If we see five problem areas [on the assessment], let's bring the best people here in the summer," she says.

Accountability Efforts

The legislature was involved in other action on the accountability system last year. It transferred the unfinished work of the Washington Commission on Student Learning, which by law closed down on June 30, to a new Academic Achievement and Accountability Commission.

Since 1994, the CSL had honed the details of the state's school improvement plans and developed the academic standards and assessments along with tools to train teachers.

Now the A+ Commission, as its successor is known, is supposed to give the accountability system teeth. Its responsibilities include adopting and revising the schools' performance-improvement goals in reading, writing, science, and mathematics; identifying the scores students need to meet the standards on the statewide tests; and adopting the criteria to identify successful and failing schools and districts and those that need state help.

And by September of this year, the commission is directed to recommend accountability policies, including state intervention strategies for schools or districts that have persistently low performance.

Those projects, if accomplished, would be the capstone to the state's reform efforts. But the commission has had trouble getting off the ground. The membership includes the state superintendent and eight appointees of the governor, four of whom must be chosen from lists submitted by the four legislative caucuses (one from each party in each chamber).

The governor delayed making the appointments because he was said to be unhappy with the recommendations of the Republican caucuses, which nominated a charter school advocate and two outspoken critics of public education.

Frazer of the state education office says the still-incomplete accountability system is already pressing schools and teachers to improve the quality of instruction.

"One of the most powerful points of leverage within the state accountability system thus far is the broad and consistent reporting of achievement data, which has now become widely anticipated, and clearly matters in the public agenda," he says. "Schools and districts that are not improving are being called on by parents and others to speak to issues of performance."

—Andrew Trotter

 

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© 2000 Editorial Projects in Education Vol. 19, number 18, page 160