Most of Washington’s public school students have now begun summer vacation after successfully achieving their grade-level learning goals this past year. Meantime, school administrators throughout our state will be spending the summer trying to resolve how their schools will be designated as “failing,” following last April’s action by the U.S. Department of Education to make Washington the first state to lose its waiver for compliance to that legislation.
Washington has been among the 43 states that have had waivers to this federal law. Those numbers speak volumes about the No Child Left Behind’s built-in expectation problems when put into actual practice.
Under No Child Left Behind, a school must meet every one of the law’s 37 categories in order to avoid being called “failing.” If a school falls short of the mark on three, two, or even one of those categories, the law designates the school as “failing.” In contrast, under the standard grading system used by most of those schools, achieving 34 out of a possible 37 on a classroom assignment (a success rate above 90 percent) would earn a grade of “A.”
April’s decision from the U.S. Department of Education comes as our state is providing more diverse ways than ever to achieve increases in learning achievement. Although No Child Left Behind defines our state’s schools as “failing,” Washington consistently remains above the national average for fourth-grade math and reading scores, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress Report.
More evidence: Washington’s seventh-graders have increased their achievement in state reading standards from 46 percent to 69 percent between 2003 and 2013. In that same time, achievement of reading standards among 10th-graders has elevated from 60 percent to more than 80 percent.
In math: From 2003 to 2013, Washington’s seventh-graders’ achievement in state standards has risen from 38 percent to 63 percent. For 10th-graders, math numbers have jumped from 39 percent to 71 percent.
In graduation: Last year, Washington’s extended graduation rate reached its highest-ever level in the state’s history. More than 80 percent of Washington’s students are now earning their high school diploma.
In the SAT: In 2013, Washington’s college-bound students had the fourth best combined average SAT score in the nation (1526). Participation in the SAT among our state’s students has increased 30 percent since 2002.
Educators are making progress in improving student learning in our state’s classrooms, but the new status regarding Washington’s waiver for No Child Left Behind will result in reversing these positive outcomes. Because of the waiver that our state’s schools had until this past April, Washington’s school districts have had flexibility to use nearly $40 million in federal funds for state or local programs and tutoring services to boost struggling students. This funding has helped students achieve the learning levels we’ve been seeing for the past decade.
With the loss of the federal waiver last April, our state is required to comply with every part of No Child Left Behind, including its requirement that every student be proficient in reading and math. Except for the very small school districts and those with low numbers in the law’s various demographic categories, No Child Left Behind will be labeling almost all of Washington’s schools as “failing.” Unfortunately, it’s a law that prescribes performance expectations that are unrealistic in actual practice.
Washington’s students are learning at high levels. Assessment scores are significantly increasing. Graduation rates have improved to their best-ever levels.
If students truly do come first, No Child Left Behind should not be denying Washington’s children and educators the resources that are helping support the work of a quality education.
• Steve Myers is superindendent of Educational Service District 105.