State schools chief asks feds for permission to skip sending bad-news letters to parents

The Associated Press and News Tribune staff reportsJune 30, 2014 

Dorn Arrested

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn

JOHN FROSCHAUER — The Associated Press file, 2009

Washington's top education official is making another attempt to get the state exempted from requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law, his office announced Monday.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn has asked the U.S. Department of Education if Washington schools could be relieved from sending mandatory letters to parents this summer. The letters spell out that their child’s school is not making adequate yearly progress and explaining that their child can transfer to a school that is.

It appears to be Dorn's latest effort to retain the state's exemption from some elements of the federal education law. Washington state was the first to lose a waiver granted to 43 states and the District of Columbia. The waivers are stopgaps until Congress reauthorizes the federal framework for the nation's schools.

Dorn says the letters, which must be sent to parents at least 14 days before the start of the school year, don't serve a useful purpose because nearly every school in the state is not making adequate yearly progress, a measurement under the No Child Left Behind Law.

Under the waiver, Washington was exempt from sending the letters and also had permission to use some federal dollars in creative ways to improve student achievement. Now, the state must set aside that money — about $40 million — to transport students who want to go to a different school and provide outside tutoring for families that request it.

"I've been an opponent of No Child Left Behind for many years now," Dorn said in a statement. "It's only hurting our students and our schools now."

As of this year, the federal education law requires that nearly every student is doing math and reading at grade level. If even one child doesn't pass statewide exams in grades 3-8 and 10, their school probably won't be making adequate yearly progress.

The state didn't have to meet the requirement during the past two school years because of the conditional waiver. It was rescinded in April after the Legislature did not meet a federal requirement to change the state's teacher evaluation system to include student performance on statewide tests.

In removing the waiver, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote that he appreciated the state's effort to reform its schools but said officials there hadn't done enough to keep the waiver.

Duncan has not responded to Washington state's latest request, superintendent spokesman Nate Olson said.

The Washington State School Directors' Association endorsed Dorn's efforts, saying many schools are making great progress — on graduation rates, achievement gaps and national tests — even if they don't meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind.

South Sound school officials made similar comments to The News Tribune Monday.

Patti Banks, superintendent of the University Place School District, said the mandatory letters would incorrectly label good schools as failing. Although most schools in her suburban district are meeting federal standards, other school districts aren’t so fortunate.

“To send this letter out would be misinformed and demoralizing,” she said. “How is that useful to anybody?”

Banks said although the core intent of No Child Left Behind was important, the standards are not reasonable and do not present an accurate reflection of the quality of schools.

Tacoma School Board President Kurt Miller said he’s heard from members of Congress that the law is unlikely to be renewed.

Miller said most if not all Tacoma schools would be marked as failing to make adequate progress, which means letters would have to be sent to virtually all families in the district.

He said this would diminish the efforts of teachers and staff who have been working hard to raise test scores and

graduation rates.

“We’re being asked to do something that is wrong,” he said.

Brian Fox, spokesman for the Puyallup School District, called the mandatory letters “an inaccurate message to parents” and a “futile effort.”

News Tribune staff writer Ryan Tarinelli contributed to this report.

The News Tribune is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service