Valley school districts, feds in dispute over progress standards

Six Valley schools are in a dubious spotlight this month, and in response, area superintendents are working to turn that light back onto what they say is the source of the problem.

The schools, Twin Falls Middle School and Opstad and North Bend Elementary Schools in the Snoqualmie Valley District, Tolt Middle School, and Cherry Valley and Carnation Elementary in Riverview, are being penalized for student test scores that did not meet federal adequate yearly progress, or AYP, standards. Each of the schools receives federal Title I funding, which will come with more restrictions on it this year, including reserving 20 percent strictly for transportation costs for students who choose a different school this year, and setting aside funds for staff professional development.

Letter goes out

School districts were required to notify parents at each Title I school about the results, and the deadline for choosing a different school — it’s Wednesday, Aug. 27 for both Snoqualmie Valley and Riverview. Along with those required letters, each Puget Sound school district also sent an explanatory letter, signed by 28 school superintendents.

In the letter, the districts note that most states in the U.S. got approval (a waiver) to operate as usual, without concern for meeting the requirements of the 2001 No Child Left Behind law, but Washington’s waiver was not renewed this year, making the state and all of its districts subject to the consequences.

“The label of ‘failing’ schools is regressive and punitive, as nearly every Washington school will not meet the NCLB requirements,” the superintendents wrote. “Some of our state’s and districts’ most successful and highly recognized schools are now being labeled ‘failing’ by an antiquated law that most educators and elected officials — as well as the U.S. Department of Education — acknowledge isn’t working.”

In the U.S., only eight schools don’t have waivers for No Child Left Behind requirements. California, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Vermont have none, and Washington’s has been revoked. Idaho, Nevada, Colorado, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Mississippi, Kentucky, Virginia, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, Delaware, New York and Connecticut have received extended waivers, and Oregon, Alaska, Hawaii, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hamsphire, and Main have been granted waivers.

The state’s waiver of the past two years “was approved based on Washington’s commitments to carry out certain actions in support of key education reforms,” according to a letter from Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. However he wrote, the state did not keep all of its commitments.

Specifically, Duncan said  the state was called on to tie teacher performance reviews to student testing results.

“One of the commitments that Washington — and every state that received (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) flexibility — made was 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….”

Duncan wrote that the state had committed to make this change in 2012 when it first applied for the waiver, and had gotten a one-year extension, but still had not submitted the required documentation by the May 1 deadline.

Snoqualmie Valley implemented a new teacher evaluation system in the last school year, with four levels of rating, distinguished, proficient, basic and unsatisfactory, and a requirement for low-rated teachers to improve over time.


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