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Washington should follow California’s lead and resist flawed federal education demands

Next week Washington Governor Jay Inslee will meet with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to discuss the state’s waiver from the requirements of the failed No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Last year Duncan’s department threatened to revoke the waiver unless the state legislature mandated that districts include student test scores in teacher evaluations. Currently districts have flexibility on how to define “student growth” measurements and can refuse to base teacher evaluations on test scores – which is a good move for teacher morale and ensures comprehensive, quality instruction for our students.

The Inslee-Duncan meeting was caused by the State Senate’s wise rejection of a bill that would link scores to evaluations. Seven Republicans joined the Democrats in voting down SB 5246, bucking their caucus to side with a growing national revolt against the culture of standardized testing.

But before Governor Inslee meets with Secretary Duncan, he should place a call to his colleague in California. Governor Jerry Brown and the state legislature faced a similar threat from Duncan, who vowed to revoke the NCLB waiver and take back millions in federal funding from California schools. California rejected the demand and so far, Duncan has not followed through on his threat.

The situation in California was similar, though not precisely the same, as in Washington State. California is moving to a new statewide standardized testing system aligned with the Common Core curriculum. That system will not be ready until the 2014-15 school year. It made no sense for the state to force teachers to give students the now obsolete STAR test. So the California Legislature adopted AB 484 to suspend STAR tests for the 2013-14 year.

Secretary Duncan spoke out against this bill, but Governor Brown was not moved:

Jim Evans, a spokesman for Brown, said Tuesday in a statement, “We support the legislation.”

“There is no reason to double-test students using outdated, ineffective standards disconnected from what’s taught in the classroom,” Evans added.

California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson rose to defend California’s ability to make its own laws regarding student assessments:

“I’m disappointed someone in Washington would want to interfere in the legislative process in California,” Torlakson told The Bee.

California and Washington are not the only states pushing back against federal education mandates. New York is pressing the pause button on the Common Core standards mandated by the U.S. Department of Education. The backlash to these mandates is bipartisan and spans the ideological spectrum.

States are traditionally laboratories of innovation. Washington State has innovated a sensible approach to teacher evaluation that is a fair compromise between many of the different positions in the debate. No parent wants their child’s education to be focused solely on test scores. Nor do they want their child’s curriculum to be narrowed to exclude subjects that aren’t on standardized tests. Washington should continue down its own path, rather than have to give in to a federal mandate that will lead schools to teach to the test rather than teach to the child.

Governor Inslee should stand firm in his meeting with Secretary Duncan in defense of Washington’s innovative model. He should enlist support from his fellow governor in Sacramento, and from others around the country who are growing concerned at a lack of collaboration and an unwillingness to respect local control on the part of the U.S. Department of Education.