Test results: 88 percent of Washington schools don’t meet federal standards

Fewer than 12 percent of schools in Washington are meeting federal achievement standards, according to state test results released Wednesday.

Yet state officials say the requirements set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act are unreasonable and that schools in Washington are actually doing well.

Under the federal education law, 100 percent of students must pass state math and reading tests in 2014 to meet the standard.

But only 260 schools in Washington state — or 11.9 percent — met the standard known as adequate yearly progress during the 2013-14 school year, according to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).

More than 1,900 schools — or 88. 1 percent — did not meet the standard, even though state officials reported that Washington schools’ test scores were on par with previous years.

“By the federal definition, they are failing,” said Gil Mendoza, OSPI’s deputy superintendent of K-12 education, at a press conference Wednesday. “We like to think otherwise... we think they are doing great work.”

Even some schools listed as meeting goals this year may have done so without hitting the 100 percent benchmark, state officials said. Some of the state’s smallest school programs are allowed a large margin of error under the federal law. Others can prove adequate yearly progress if significantly fewer of their students failed state tests this year than in 2011.

In the South Sound, 22 schools and educational programs in Pierce County made adequate yearly progress, as did five in Thurston County. Many of them were small programs aimed at helping struggling students.

This is the first year since 2011 that Washington schools have been required to comply with No Child Left Behind, which set achievement standards that schools across the country have been unable to meet. The last time Washington state operated under the law, about 37 percent of schools met the federal standards.

But the requirements weren’t as difficult then; the percentage of students required to pass has ratcheted up every year until hitting the ceiling of 100 percent this year.

Washington was exempt from No Child Left Behind for the past two years because the federal government granted it a waiver from the law. But earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education revoked Washington’s waiver, saying it is unacceptable that the state doesn’t require statewide standardized testing data to play a role in teacher and principal evaluations.

Now that Washington officials are back to operating under No Child Left Behind, schools and school districts that haven’t met progress goals for two years or more will be subject to sanctions, such as having to send letters home to parents telling them that their child’s school or district is failing.

Those letters have already gone out, school officials said Wednesday.

In the letters, high-poverty schools that are deemed failing under federal standards must offer parents the chance to send their child to a non-failing school, if one is available. Many of those Title I schools must also offer free tutoring.

School districts are being forced to pay for the tutoring and the cost of transporting students to a new school by setting aside 20 percent of their federal Title I allocation for the year, or about $40 million statewide.

State Superintendent Randy Dorn said he will introduce legislation again next year to try to adjust Washington’s teacher evaluation system so the state can regain its federal waiver.

Dorn said losing the waiver has caused the state to have to do things he thinks “are ridiculous, stupid, ineffective, a waste of resources and accomplish zero.”

“I understand the public is confused because we’ve had to go back to a law that Congress knows doesn’t make sense anymore, the president knows it doesn’t make sense, the Legislature knows it doesn’t make sense,” Dorn said Wednesday. “But the adults can’t get together and solve the issue.”