Most schools in Washington state will be required to send letters to parents before school starts this fall, saying the schools are failing because not every child has passed state reading and math tests.
The U.S. Department of Education has notified Washington school officials that it has denied the state’s request to spare most schools the need to send those letters.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn said Monday that he fully expected the denial when he sent the request about a month ago, but agreed to give it a try.
In his letter to the Department of Education, Dorn had argued that the letters would serve no useful purpose since nearly every school in Washington is falling short of the requirements in the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind.
That’s true of most schools in every other state as well, but most states still have waivers from many provisions of that act.
Washington once had a waiver, too, but lost it in April after state legislators refused to enact one of the policies that the U.S. Department of Education wanted – a requirement that teachers be evaluated, in part, by their students’ performance on state tests.
The waiver loss meant Washington schools now must meet all requirements of the 2001 law, including one that requires schools to notify parents if schools fail to meet certain test score targets. By 2014 those requirements included ensuring that schools had a 100 percent passage rate on state tests in reading in math in grades 3-8 and grade 10.
Washington’s school districts also have lost control over how they spend part of their share of about $40 million in federal funding.
Districts will have to send the letters to parents before school starts, notifying them that their school is falling short of the federal requirements. The districts must also inform some parents — those with children in schools that receive federal Title 1 funding — that they have the right to transfer their children to more successful schools.
That will be moot in districts where nearly all schools are considered failing, but the U.S. Department of Education’s letter said it’s important to notify parents anyway.
Assistant Secretary Deborah Delisle also wrote that the letters will give parents other useful information, such as why their school is judged as sub par, what it is doing to raise achievement, and how parents can get involved.
Dorn has said he thinks the letters will hurt public education and that Congress and state lawmakers are the ones falling short – Congress by failing to update a law many view as broken, and state legislators by failing to pass a law requiring districts to use test scores in evaluating teachers.