Washington state asking permission to not send letters home to parents about school progress


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SEATTLE — 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 asked the U.S. Department of Education earlier this month if Washington schools could avoid sending letters to parents saying schools are not making adequate yearly progress and explaining that kids can transfer to a school that is. The letters would also offer outside tutoring.

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 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 needs to 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 It was rescinded in April after the Legislature did not meet a federal requirement to change the state's teacher evaluation system to include student performance on statewide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 yet responded to Washington state's latest request, superintendent spokesman Nate Olson said.

The Washington Policy Center, which advocates for school reform, was not pleased with the move by the state education department.

"They will do anything to avoid accountability for school performance," said Liv Finne, the center's director for education. "Avoiding embarrassment, not educating children, is their highest priority."

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.

"That 14-day letter does nothing to further any education goals. In fact, it does quite the opposite," said David Iseminger, a Lake Stevens school board member and member of the association's board of directors.

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