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Whidbey schools fail to meet federal standards, spurs letter to parents

In the next couple of weeks many parents of Whidbey students will receive letters indicating their elementary schools are failing them.

According to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, they are.

In late April, Washington became the first state to lose its No Child Left Behind waiver which allowed them to ignore much of that law. Because of this waiver loss, Washington Title 1 schools must start adhering to the rule’s stringent policies.

Whidbey Island schools are simply looking for a work-around for legislation they consider a “distraction” to education.

“We’re having to figure out how to meet the letter of the law when it doesn’t make any sense,” said Oak Harbor Schools Superintendent Lance Gibbon.

Despite the letter and its required language, there is a message Gibbon wants to make sure parents understand: the schools are not failing and will be providing the same level of service they always have.

“It’s confusing for parents and we want them to understand what’s really happening,” Gibbon said. “Everybody recognizes that this is a failed law and that what we’re having to do is kind of artificial.”

All of Oak Harbor School District’s five elementary schools are Title 1 schools, as are the single elementary schools in the South Whidbey and Coupeville school districts. Title 1 schools receive federal moneys based on income levels of the students’ families. In exchange for that funding, schools are required to adhere to No Child Left Behind unless a waiver is in place.

In order to meet the No Child Left Behind requirements, these schools must inform parents that the school has failed to meet federal requirements and that they have the option of transferring their student to another school.

Hopefully, the letter will also reassure parents that the schools remain dedicated to education despite the obstacles laid out by No Child Left Behind, Gibbon said.

According to state statute, if a school does not have the capacity to take in transfer students, the students would be moved into an alternate classroom at their original school but be technically registered at the new school. As Gibbon puts it, “this makes no sense.”

“This is not going to be a distraction from the great work we are already doing,” Gibbon said. “We just need to get past this.”

Shawn Nowlin, who has been involved with the South Whidbey Elementary PTA for the last three years, called the No Child Left Behind model “punitive” for teachers and administrators, but most parents don’t take it too seriously.

“Most parents see the letter and say, ‘My kid isn’t in Title I,’ and they throw it away,” Nowlin said. She added that Title 1 funding has continually been cut and only affects about 25 percent of the students, decreasing its relevance in daily education.

Nowlin said the testing requirements of No Child Left Behind sets an impossible bar for teachers and students. No Child Left Behind mandated that 100 percent of students must pass state tests in math and reading 100 percent of the time by 2014.

“It’s a way to demoralize your teaching staff who are working as hard as they can,” Nowlin said. “The test and the standards aren’t based on what is good for the child.”

South Whidbey School District Superintendent Jo Moccia and elementary school Principal Jeff Cravy could not be reached for comment by press time.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, a Second District Democrat, released a statement Thursday, calling on Congress to reauthorize and update the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, because nearly all Washington state schools are sending these “failure” letters to parents in the coming weeks.

“These letters in no way reflect a change in the quality of education in Washington state,” Larsen said. “The requirement to send letters describing schools as ‘failing’ only demonstrates that NCLB’s standards are terribly constructed. These outdated education standards are completely out of touch with Washington state’s schools. These flawed standards for schools must be scrapped and replaced.”

Larsen and other members of the Washington state Congressional delegation asked the Department of Education in June to waive the letter requirement, but were denied.

“What’s most important now is that we all do our part to rectify this situation,” said Sen. Patty Murray, in an April statement. “From the Congressional viewpoint, that means working to update the outdated No Child Left Behind law in a way that works for our state, supports our teachers, and meets the needs of students today.”

 

 

 

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