Washington State Educators Blast Federal Achievement Standards

The federal government says that Washington state schools are not meeting federal achievement standards, with only 12% of schools making the cut. State officials, however, say the requirements which were set by the federal No Child Left Behind act are "unreasonable", and, in fact, Washington schools are doing very well.

Melissa Santos, reporting for The Bellingham Herald, says that under the federal education law, 100% of students must attain a passing grade on math and reading tests in 2014 in order to meet the standard.

Only 260 of more than 2,000 schools met the standard called "adequate yearly progress" during the 2013-2014 school year. The state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) officials reported that Washington schools were about where they were for the past few years.

"By the federal definition, they are failing," said Gil Mendoza, OSPI's deputy superintendent of K-12 education, at a press conference Wednesday. "We like to think otherwise… we think they are doing great work."

Some of Washington's smallest school systems, usually aimed at helping struggling students, are allowed a larger margin of error under the federal law, so some schools listed as meeting their goals may have reached those goals without hitting the 100% mark. Other schools can prove an adequate amount of progress if fewer students failed state tests this year than in 2011.

This is the first year since 2011 that schools in Washington have been required to meet the No Child Left Behind achievement standards. Other schools nationwide have not been able to meet the standards; in 2011, approximately 37% of schools met the standards, but the requirements were not as rigorous. Every year the percentage of students required to hit the proficiency mark has been raised. Finally, it hit the 100% level.

The state has been exempt from No Child Left Behind requirements for the past two years, but earlier this year the US Department of Education revoked the waiver on the basis of the state not requiring statewide standardized test results to effect teacher and principal evaluations.

The result is that Washington is back on the NCLB program and the sanctions that go along with the NCLB program will be applied. The first sanction to be addressed is informing parents that their children's schools or their districts are failing. This is already being done, with letters being sent from almost nine out of 10 schools. State schools will also have to allow parents to transfer from a failing school to the nearest non-failing school.

In many cases, Title I schools will have to provide free tutoring. The tutoring, transportation for students transferring to non-failing schools, and state "per child" allocation will have to be paid to the non-failing school by the failing school. This means that 20% of Title I allocations will have to be set aside for these purposes. That amounts to $40 million statewide.

"By losing our waiver, we've had to do some things that I think are ridiculous, stupid, ineffective, a waste of resources, and accomplish zero," State Superintendent Randy Dorn said. "And that is that if you have a school that has one student that does not meet grade level proficiency, then your school fails."

Ann Dornfield of Northwest Public Radio reports that the actual numbers are 70% of 3rd- through 8th-graders passed the reading test while about 60% passed the math test.

Many Washington districts are planning to send letters to parents that defend their schools' achievement. Interim Superintendent Larry Nyland sent a robocall to Seattle Public Schools families that said:

"So when you receive my letter in a few days, please know that it does not mean your school has had a sudden change in performance. We continue to work hard to make every school an excellent school, and prepare every student for success in school, ready for college, career and life."
More than 90% of graduating secondary students in the class of 2014 passed the test they needed for graduation status. Washington's graduation rate is roughly 80% with future projections being unclear, as next year most students will adhere to a new set of standardized tests called Smarter Balance.
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