Renton schools send letters home explaining 'failing' NCLB label

The Renton School District, along with 27 other Puget Sound area districts, will send out a letter this week explaining the “failing” label that’s been given to them under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.

In the letters co-signed by the Puget Sound Educational Service District, superintendents across the region call the label “regressive” and “punitive” and say they are not reflective of progress in the districts in test scores.

The failing mark comes after two years of Washington state operating under a conditional waiver from the accountability requirements of NCLB. The waiver exempted schools from NCLB sanctions, including the requirement to inform parents if test scores failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). However, the federal government refused to renew Washington’s waiver for the 2014-15 school year. AYP is the annual measure if student achievement on state tests in reading and math.

“Renton Superintendent Dr. Merri Rieger joined the other regional district superintendents, in the letter, stating that we are fully committed to each and every student reaching his or her full potential and are proud of the significant academic progress our students are making,” said Randy Matheson, Renton spokesperson in a email. “While not all students have reached proficiency, our use of targeted resources to assist struggling students and schools has made a significant difference.”

It is the goal of NCLB for 100 percent of students to reach proficiency in both subjects by 2014. Nearly every Washington school will fail to meet AYP and be labeled as failing under that standard, state officials at the Puget Sound Educational Service District.

“There is no room for improvement or growth,” wrote Peter Daniels, PSESD executive director, in an email. “It’s an all or nothing accountability system; 100 percent of your students’ (including special needs, English language learners and others) must meet proficiency. So if one child is not proficient, the entire school is labeled failing, even if they saw a 20 percent improvement in student’s academic scores.”

The label has been especially hard to take in districts like Issaquah, where they are ranked one of the best in the state, although still not at 100 percent, said Daniels.

In Renton, the 20 percent set aside from Title I amounts to about $700,000.

“Having to take the 20 percent of Title I funding ‘off the top’ of our budget, means those dollars will not be provided to schools for use in their student improvement efforts, like additional time with struggling students; additional staffing to help students in need; before/after school assistance; and there will be reduction in additional professional development for teachers and staff and supplemental learning materials for students,” said Matheson.

The federal government provides a “per pupil allocation” for each student of poverty based on Federal Title I requirements and the Renton School District has 13 Title I schools.

Vickie Damon is in charge of the district’s Title I program and said the loss of funding wasn’t good news for those schools effected.

“We will essentially be doing 80 percent of what we could be doing in our Title I schools,” she said. “I can’t specifically state the effect over a long time, but clearly having that funding in a building budget is an enhancement to the school’s program.”

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