ICYMI (and I’m late on this one), state Education Commissioner John King admits his agency is slowly slogging its way through the teacher performance evaluation plans submitted by districts to date, and is making no promises that the approval process will be complete by the Jan. 17 deadline – especially for districts that are taking their time at the bargaining table with local unions.

Despite the fact that only about 80 of some 300 local plans provided to the Education Department have been approved – which means some 400 have yet to submit – King says he’s “optimistic” the agency is doing everything it can to make sure the target is met and districts receiving their scheduled 4 percent increase in state education aid.

The commissioner dodged my question about whether a grace period might be considered for districts that aren’t technically late, but don’t allow SED sufficient time to review their plan. He said hitting the deadline is the agency’s main focus, and did not want to entertain questions about what will happen if that deadline isn’t met.

“We have a real sense of momentum,” the commissioner told me during a CapTon interview last week. “We started by approving 10 model plans, and one of the things that we’re seeing is that districts and bargaining units are looking closely at those model plans. Amd I think we’ll see elements of those model plans replicated in other districts.”

“…We’re approaching the halfway mark. My sense is the volume of submissions will continue to increase as we move through the fall. And we are trying to add a little bit of capacity – a few staff additional staff people to help with the review and also the technical assistance that we’re providing to districts as we give them feedback.”

“So, we feel optimistic. The real challenge will be if there are districts that get close to the deadline. It takes us about four to six weeks for each plan that comes in, to turn it around. So we worry that if districts start to get closer to that January 17th deadline, there may be challenges – particularly if they submit plans that don’t reflect all the guidance and feedback that we’ve tried to give.”

“So, the quality of plans will determine whether or not we hit the deadlines, and also districts and their bargaining units making sure to get plans in within that four to six-week window.”

Performance evaluations are back in the news this month, thanks to the Chicago teachers strike, which is now in its second week.

It appeared last Friday that the two sides were close to a deal that would have returned teachers to the classroom today, but that fell apart over the weekend, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel is now seeking court intervention in hopes of ending the standoff in the nation’s third-largest public school system.