State must tell parents which schools are failing

OLYMPIA — The U.S. Department of Education on Monday rebuffed an attempt by Washington to keep from sending letters to parents telling them their child attends a failing public school.

State schools chief Randy Dorn asked the agency to exempt Washington from this requirement of the No Child Left Behind Act that aims to give parents a chance to transfer their child to a better performing school.

Dorn argued the letters, most of which must be sent at least 14 days before the start of the new school year, will not serve a useful purpose because nearly every school in the state will be considered failing for not meeting or exceeding a federal standard known as “Adequate Yearly Progress.”

“We’re disappointed but we’re not surprised that it happened,” said Dorn spokesman Nathan Olson, adding that the use of a single federal measure “to essentially criticize schools is not helpful.”

Adequate Yearly Progress is an annual measure of student achievement. It requires that by 2014, all students in grades 3-8 and 10 be proficient on state tests in reading and math.

In 2012 and 2013, Washington and 42 other states received waivers from the No Child Left Behind law.

But Washington lost its waiver in April after state lawmakers did not pass a law requiring student test scores be used in the evaluation of public school teachers and principals. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had warned the state it would lose the waiver if it did not approve such a law.

The consequence of losing the waiver is having to comply with all of the No Child Left Behind provisions, starting this fall.

The number of schools that must send out letters will be known in late August when AYP results are released. Upon receiving a letter, a parent can seek to transfer their child to a non-failing school if they can find one.

“We are prepared to send the letters and for them to be clear and understandable,” Mary Waggoner, spokeswoman for the Everett Schools District, wrote in an email.

“When this outdated law was in place in the past, nine out of 10 of the families in our district, who could have changed schools, chose to stay at their neighborhood schools,” she wrote. “Leaving friends and neighbors and having a longer bus ride was not worth it to most families — especially after learning the law has little to do with student learning improvement.”

The Washington State School Directors’ Association urged Dorn to seek the waiver of the letter requirement, contending many schools will be deemed underperforming despite progress boosting graduation rates and closing achievement gaps.

“That 14-day letter does nothing to further any education goals. In fact, it does quite the opposite,” David Iseminger, a Lake Stevens school board member and member of the association’s board of directors, said last month.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com

Wire reports contributed to this story.

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