Federal waiver loss could affect schools

May 20, 2014

By Neil Pierson

Last month’s U.S. Department of Education decision to revoke Washington state’s No Child Left Behind waiver is starting to filter down to school districts and individual buildings.

At the Issaquah School Board’s May 14 meeting, officials discussed the loss of the waiver, which was officially announced April 24. Washington had been one of 43 states with the waiver, allowing it to deviate from NCLB, a nationwide accountability system for public schools that has been in place since 2001.

It wasn’t an unexpected decision: Washington had been warned it would lose its waiver after state legislators failed last year to make student test scores a mandatory part of teacher and principal evaluations. Arizona, Kansas and Oregon are also at risk of losing their waivers.

The consequences are two-fold: Districts will lose control of a portion of their federal funding, and schools that receive federal money are subject to a variety of improvement efforts if student assessment scores aren’t high enough.

While the number of affected schools in Issaquah is relatively low, Superintendent Ron Thiele said, the consequences could still be severe.

“The reality that is soon going to happen is every school is going to be considered failing,” Thiele said.

Thiele said he has heard estimates from the state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction that 98-99 percent of schools will be deemed failing in the next few years because they aren’t meeting Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, a component of No Child Left Behind.

Under current federal requirements, schools can only achieve AYP by having 100 percent of their students meeting standards on reading and math assessments.

The problem, said Debra Hawkins, Issaquah’s director of assessment and research, is there are 23 separate components of AYP. Those include various gender, race and socioeconomic factors, and if a school fails one component, they fail to make AYP.

Schools that fall short of progress standards in consecutive years are subject to a series of escalating consequences. They range from allowing students to transfer to other schools within the district, to changing their curriculum and to possibly having the state operate the school, depending on how many years AYP isn’t met.

“Some districts have replaced the principals,” Hawkins said. “Some districts have replaced teachers.”

Issaquah officials don’t know yet whether failing schools will be subjected to the same penalties they previously faced under AYP. Washington began using a new system, Annual Measurable Objectives, or AMO, two years ago, shortly after it obtained the NCLB waiver.

Under AMO, districts have to cut their rate of nonproficient students in half by 2017. However, any penalties for failing to meet the goal haven’t been determined, the OSPI website states.

Only six of Issaquah’s 24 schools receive federal Title I money. All of them are elementary schools — Apollo, Briarwood, Clark, Issaquah Valley, Maple Hills and Sunset.

The district received about $500,000 in Title I funds this year, money that is typically used for remedial programs in math and reading, Thiele said.

The district would have to set aside 20 percent of that — about $100,000 — if it doesn’t meet AYP. The reserves would pay for extra instruction for struggling students, or transporting students who choose to attend a nonfailing school.

Jake Kuper, the district’s chief of operations and finance, said that would eat into the transportation budget, although local dollars could be used to avoid cutting into instructional programs.

If a school fails to meet AYP, parents would be notified through the mail. It’s a scenario that didn’t please school board members.

“I actually don’t want to alarm the community by saying our schools are failing, because they’re not,” board member Brian Deagle said. “They are excellent schools, and we recognize that we want all kids to reach standard.

“It’s something we’re always striving for. But not all kids always pass the state test at the same time or category.”

It’s ironic, Thiele added, that 10 Issaquah schools received a Washington Achievement Award last month for their strong assessment scores.

“A number of the schools that are going to get the failing label are also schools that are flying banners of success over them right now,” he said.


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