Tenure: Washington

Identifying Effective Teachers Policy


The state should require that tenure decisions are based on evidence of teacher effectiveness.

Meets a small part of goal
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2015). Tenure: Washington results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/WA-Tenure-71

Analysis of Washington's policies

The probationary period for teachers in Washington is three years. At a district's discretion, a teacher may be granted tenure after the second year if he or she receives one of the top two evaluation ratings. 

If a provisional teacher receives an unsatisfactory evaluation rating during his or her third year of employment, the teacher remains a provisional teacher until he or she receives at least a basic or higher evaluation rating. 

Because Washington's teacher evaluation ratings are not centered primarily on evidence of student learning (see "Evaluation of Effectiveness" analysis and recommendations), basing tenure decisions on these evaluation ratings ensures that classroom effectiveness is considered, but it does not ensure that it is the preponderant criterion.


Recommendations for Washington

Ensure that evidence of effectiveness is the preponderant criterion in tenure decisions. 
Washington should make evidence of effectiveness, rather than number of years in the classroom, the most significant factor when determining this leap in professional standing.

Articulate a process that local districts must administer when deciding which teachers get tenure. 
Washington should require a clear process, such as a hearing, to ensure that the local district reviews a teacher's performance before making a determination regarding tenure. 

Require a longer probationary period. 
Washington should extend its probationary period, ideally to five years. This would allow sufficient time to collect data that adequately reflect teacher performance. 

State response to our analysis

Washington was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis. The state added that it is extremely unlikely that a district would keep a teacher with an unsatisfactory rating at the end of the third year, or even the second year. If the district were to decide to renew employment for a teacher who did receive an unsatisfactory in year three (perhaps due to extenuating circumstances), that teacher would have continuing status in year four unless there was a specific employment agreement specifying otherwise.

Washington also noted that the analysis assumes that the only measure of effectiveness is student results on state assessments and that the evaluation rubrics do not measure effectiveness. The analysis also assumes that district leaders do not review performance or measures of student learning when granting continuing contract status. The state disagrees with these assumptions.

Research rationale

Tenure should be a significant and consequential milestone in a teacher's career.
The decision to give teachers tenure (or permanent status) is usually made automatically, with little thought, deliberation or consideration of actual performance. State policy should reflect the fact that initial certification is temporary and probationary, and that tenure is intended to be a significant reward for teachers who have consistently shown effectiveness and commitment. Tenure and advanced certification are not rights implied by the conferring of an initial teaching certificate. No other profession, including higher education, offers practitioners tenure after only a few years of working in the field.

States should also ensure that evidence of effectiveness is the preponderant (but not the only) criterion for making tenure decisions. Most states confer tenure at a point that is too early for the collection of sufficient and adequate data that reflect teacher performance. Ideally, states would accumulate such data for four to five years. This robust data set would prevent effective teachers from being unfairly denied tenure based on too little data and ineffective teachers from being granted tenure.

Tenure: Supporting Research
Numerous studies illustrate how difficult and uncommon the process is of dismissing tenured teachers for poor performance. These studies underscore the need for an extended probationary period that would allow teachers to demonstrate their capability to promote student performance.

For evidence on the potential of eliminating automatic tenure, articulating a process for granting tenure, and using evidence of effectiveness as criteria for tenure see D. Goldhaber and M. Hansen, "Assessing the Potential of Using Value-Added Estimates of Teacher Job Performance for Making Tenure Decisions." Calder Institute, February 2010, Working Paper 31.  Goldhaber and Hansen conclude that if districts ensured that the bottom performing 25 percent of all teachers up for tenure each year did not earn it, approximately 13 percent more than current levels, student achievement could be significantly improved. By routinely denying tenure to the bottom 25 percent of eligible teachers, the impact on student achievement would be equivalent to reducing class size across-the-board by 5 students a class.

For additional evidence see R. Gordon, T. Kane, and D. Staiger, "Identifying Effective Teachers Using Performance on the Job," The Hamilton Project Discussion Paper, The Brookings Institute, April 2006.