I wanted to take the time to share a little bit about a recent change in the educational laws for Washington state concerning the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. If you don’t already know about this change, please take the time to read and learn more about the changes that will affect most people living in Washington on some level.
The NCLB was passed in 2001 and and requires public schools to be making “adequate yearly progress” on state standardized math and reading tests. Each year, the law requires the passing student percentage to increase and 100% of students are supposed to be passing by 2014. Schools who do not meet these requirements would face sanctions. It is currently 2014 and I can tell you with confidence that the goal was definitely not met nor is it realistic.
The Obama administration offered conditional waivers but now Washington State has become the first state to lose their NCLB waiver. We were one of 43 states who had been granted a waiver and this means we are going to see some serious repercussions that will affect our public school system and our student population. The biggest change is that the state loses control and flexibility in how to spend almost $40 million of federal funding for Title I (low income and disadvantaged) students. Instead, these dollars will be required to be used for NCLB methods including funding for private tutoring services and providing transportation for students who want to attend different schools. This means that extracurricular and enrichment activities will probably need to be cut from these Title I schools that already lack in resources and opportunities. These “failing schools” will also be required to send home letters to the parents stating that their child attends a failing school and they have the right to switch to a different school. I personally feel this is only going to stress out parents and students alike since nearly every Washington public school will be labeled as failing. Again, I want to remind you that according to NCLB, a failing school means that not 100% of their students are meeting standards on test scores.
Now here’s the part that gets really interesting. Washington could have easily kept its waiver by making minor adjustments in teacher evaluation requirements. Under the conditions of keeping the NCLB waiver, student standardized test scores must be used in some part of teacher evaluations. It never specified what percentage it had to count for so we could have just said that the test scores would be utilized in teacher evaluations for as little as 1% and we would still have the waiver. Instead, our legislature chose to use the word “student scores can be used in teacher evaluation” and costed the state the waiver. They faced a lot of backlash and pressure for teacher unions earlier this year who were very upset with the possibility of their pay and teaching status being based upon student test scores and understandably so. While many may argue that our legislation should have just complied with the waiver conditions and made test scores a part of teacher evaluation, I find myself agreeing with the decision they made. Having spent some time volunteering in a Title I school and speaking with other teachers from various states including Washington that work or have worked in Title I schools, I think it would absurd to base teacher evaluations upon test scores and the legislation did right by digging it’s heels in on the matter. Not making the small changed required may be costly but Washington is holding on to its beliefs about our education system and being fair to teachers. Now don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer in good teachers as I have had the privilege of having many but I also do not think they can be held accountable for standardized testing scores, especially in Title I schools. There are so many other factors that influence the test result and many of these children do not speak English as their first language. For a system of testing that is so heavily English-language oriented, it is no surprise that the test score results come back so low.
The fact that there is an expectation for every single student to be passing standards is something I really struggle with believing because there are so many students have lacked the opportunities, the resources, the home environment, the support, and even the time in the United States to be meeting these standards set for children who have had the idea conditions of education. For a nation with such a large immigrant population, requiring these students to be meeting standards is unrealistic. From my own experience so far volunteering in a Title I classroom and working with these sweet children, I see where a disadvantaged student’s skill level starts and the growth they make during the time they spend with an effective teacher. Even if they may not be able to pass standardized tests, they can go from speaking and knowing absolutely no English at all to being able to read short picture books. That is an outstanding accomplishment not deserving of being labeled “failing”. I think policy makers really need to spend some time in such classrooms before they even begin brainstorming laws. The issues of special education students also are put into focus but I am not as familiar with the requirements and conditions concerning them. I know that under the NCLB waiver, there was some sort of leniency concerning test scores for these students but without the waiver, they could be facing some serious challenges ahead. It is going to be nerve-wracking to see how Washington public schools deal with these changes in funding and regulation but most importantly, it will be heartbreaking to watch kids suffer the consequences of these drastic changes.