Parents to get dueling letters from schools

August 19, 2014

By Staff

New: August 19, 1:01 p.m.

By John Higgins
Seattle Times education reporter

Because most Washington school districts don’t have 100 percent of their students passing state math and reading tests, the federal No Child Left Behind law says the districts must send letters to families explaining why.
But the districts don’t have to like it, and 28 school superintendents have jointly written a second letter they will send along with the first, explaining why they think their schools are doing much better than the No Child letters make it seem.
“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,” the cover letter states.
The letter is signed by John Welch, superintendent of the Puget Sound Educational Service District, which represents the 28 districts.
The signees also include the Issaquah and Lake Washington school districts.
They announced the protest letter at an event Aug. 13.
Seattle Public Schools did not sign it, but supports the letter’s sentiments, a spokeswoman said.
In the Issaquah School District, no schools have reached 100 percent passing, said L Michelle, district spokeswoman. She noted that the sanctions under No Child Left Behind only apply to schools that receive Federal Title I money. This likely applies to only three schools in the district, none in Sammamish. As a result, only parents at those three schools will be receiving the letters.
The state has yet to release official test scores, so which schools will get letters is unclear.
In the Lake Washington School District, parents at four schools, none of them in Sammamish, will be receiving the letters, said Kathryn Reith, district spokeswoman.
As a result, Sammamish parents won’t be getting either letter, at least not this time around.
Reith said that Lake Washington signed on because even though it only applies to a few schools, that list will likely grow, and more and more families will be hearing that their school, or the entire district, has been labeled “failing.”
Critics say the federal education law, known as No Child Left Behind, is long overdue for a rewrite in Congress, where Republicans and Democrats agree it’s not working but disagree on how to fix it.
The 2001 law required all states to create their own standards for reading and math and work toward ensuring every student reaches them, including students with disabilities and those who don’t speak English as their first language. The deadline, set in 2001, was 2014.
Recognizing that few if any districts would hit that target, the Obama administration granted most states a waiver from some of the law’s requirements in exchange for adopting certain reforms, including the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations, a move some think should be challenged in federal court.
In April, Washington became the first state in the country to lose its waiver because it does not mandate districts to use student scores on state tests as part of judging how well teachers do their jobs. That meant the letters, which Washington schools haven’t had to send for a few years, now must go to parents.
The federal government has said that it’s important to notify parents about the reasons a school is judged subpar, what it’s doing to improve and how parents can get involved. Some schools will be required to notify parents if their children are eligible for outside tutoring.
Seattle Public Schools did not sign the letter because it is seeking reinstatement of the waiver for its own schools, arguing that its unique teacher-evaluation system, negotiated with the teachers union, meets the federal requirements.
The letters must be sent 14 days before school starts.
Sammamish Review Editor Ari Cetron contributed.
John Higgins: 206-464-3145 or jhiggins@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @jhigginsST

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