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Return to No Child Left Behind for schools

Washington state schools, including those in Kent and Tahoma, will be required to have all students passing state assessments in reading and math this year or be labeled as “failing.”

Washington was launched into uncharted territory April 24 as the first state to lose its federally granted waiver from requirements in the No Child Left Behind Act.

The Department of Education’s revocation of the waiver means that schools must meet the Annual Yearly Progress benchmark of 100 percent of students passing state exams in reading and math in 2014.

The short list of consequences includes reallocation of a portion of federal funding that schools receive, and having to notify students’ families that schools are failing to meet federal standards. However the details about how the consequences will be applied is at this point unclear according to both Kent and Tahoma’s respective spokesmen.

“The impacts will be felt on a financial, programmatic and communications level,” Kent Spokesman Chris Loftis wrote in an email on April 25.

SCHOOL ACCOUNTABILITY LEGISLATION

The No Child Left Behind Act was an update done in the early 2000s to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that was originally passed in the 1960s. The ESEA has been periodically updated over the years; the No Child Left Behind Act being the most recent such update. According to the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, NCLB was due for an update in 2007, but lawmakers haven’t been able to agree on what the update should entail.

Essentially, ESEA and the NCLB update are an accountability system for educators.

One of the requirements for schools in NCLB was that by 2014 all students would pass state tests in math and reading.

In 2012, states were to apply to the Department of Education for a waiver from the NCLB requirements in light of the delay in the update and the impending 2014 requirement.

The Washington state ESEA flexibility request summary, which was last updated in July of 2012, states, “ED (Department of Education) and Education Secretary Arne Duncan offered the flexibility partly because of frustration with Congress over the delay, and partly because of the almost universal frustration among educators and many educational advocates regarding NCLB and its unwieldy and often unenforceable adequate yearly progress (AYP) regulations and sanctions.”

The waiver and it’s subsequent renewal came with conditions.

One of those conditions was that student performance on state tests had to be included in teacher evaluations.

The state is in the process of overhauling how teachers and principals are evaluated by implementing the Teacher/Principal Evaluation Project.

Washington student performance is currently not a required part of teacher evaluations, and a change in that would require the state Legislature to take action.

In August of 2013 the state was named “high-risk’ by the Department of Education, a designation that meant this year the waiver would potentially not be renewed again.

In a letter dated April 24 from Duncan to state Superintendent Randy Dorn, Duncan wrote, “Washington’s request for ESEA flexibility was approved based on Washington’s commitments to carry out certain actions in support of key education reforms.”

Duncan went on to write, “However, Washington has not been able to keep all of its commitments.”

Duncan then cited a commitment “to put in place teacher and principal evaluation and support systems that take into account information on student learning growth based on high-quality college- and career-ready State assessments as a significant factor in determining teacher and principal performance levels, along with other measures of professional practice such as classroom observations.”

Finally, Duncan stated that since the legislature had adjourned without implementing the requirement for student test scores to be a part of teacher evaluations the waiver would be revoked for the 2014-15 school year.

“That’s what it all turned on in the Legislature this year: it’s either going to be ‘may’ be a part of an evaluation or ‘shall’ be a part of an evaluation,” Tahoma spokesman Kevin Patterson said. “What the Department of Education wanted was that testing evaluations ‘shall.’”

CONSEQUENCES

The federal funding in question is known as Title I funds.

According to the OSPI website, “Title I, part A is a federal program that serves the unique needs of children — kindergarten to grade 12 — who struggle to learn. Title I programs and services enrich time at school with customized instruction and curricula that helps these students meet academic standards and take an active, engaged interest in what they learn and can do.”

Not all schools receive Title I funds. They are distributed

based on need. One of the main indicators is the percentage of a school’s students that receive free and reduced lunch. While not all schools receive the funds, Patterson said that essentially all schools, with maybe only a few exceptions, are likely to be classified as failing the 100 percent standard.

The NCLB standards call for a 20 percent reallocation of Title I funds for schools that don’t meet the Annual Yearly Progress standard that all students pass the math and reading state tests by 2014. Otherwise, schools have to send out a letter informing parents that the school is failing the standard. The reallocated funds are to be used for supplemental instruction or to transport students to schools that are not failing if the student wishes to attend a different school.

This school year Tahoma received $169,000 in Title I funds for students at Lake Wilderness Elementary and Shadow Lake Elementary. The district’s total general fund budget for expenditures — the district’s main operating budget — for the 2013-2014 school year was $75,727,751.

“There’s the money and then there’s the stigma,” Patterson said. “OSPI has said that the standard will apply to all schools even if they don’t receive any federal Title I funding.”

Patterson said that while the financial impacts for Tahoma schools the cost in reputation and public opinion of schools would be greater.

“In a time when we are making great strides in education we are going to have to send letters saying we’re failing,” Patterson said.

Kent receives approximately $1.2 million a year in Title I funds, according to Loftis. Kent’s total general fund budgeted expenditures for the 2013-14 school year was $287,525,409.

According to the Kent School District website, Kent elementary schools that have a free and reduced lunch rate of 40 percent of the student body or higher receive Title I funds. That list includes 20 elementary schools in the district, including Cedar Valley, Covington, Horizon and Jenkins Creek.

“This is a terrible blow for all of our schools that have been showing steady, strong and in many cases, remarkable improvement over the past few years, as evidenced by the Washington Accountability Index and several other state measures,” Loftis wrote in an email.

Loftis added that losing the waiver could also impact the district’s Race to the Top funding, the specifics of which, he said, are still unknown.

“Without our ability to meet the signed assurances in the (RTTT) grant, one of which included the requirement of using test data in teacher evaluation, we are placed in a non-compliance mode with this requirement,” he said.

The state announced that testing data from 2010-11 — the last year before the waiver went into effect — and from 2013-14 will be used to determine which consequences apply to a school. If a school took part in piloting the new Common Core State Standards aligned Smarter Balanced tests this year and wasn’t required to report scores, then data from the 2012-13 school year will be used.

PUSHBACK

While schools await direction from the state, dissension is growing among educational stakeholders.

On May 1 the board of directors of the Washington State School Directors Association passed a resolution urging Congress to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act — essentially updating it and thereby replacing the No Child Left Behind requirements — and was asking individual school boards to do the same.

According to their website, the association consists of 1,477 school board members from school districts in Washington. Their stated objectives include advocating for public education and student achievement, as well as promoting effective public school governance and creating a network for school board members.

The resolution passed by the board calls out the No Child Left Behind Act update as “ineffective” and “costly” and states, “the current law has resulted in the misrepresentation of students, schools and districts and contributed to a significant and unwarranted decline in the publics’ opinion of our public schools.”

Patterson said the Tahoma School Board would consider the resolution at its next board meeting on May 13.

“They are pushing back,” Patterson said of the WSSDA. “We want (Congress) to tear it up and do it again because the system is inherently unfair.”

 

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