Whidbey parents to be notified of No Child Left Behind failings

Students at Broad View Elementary School in Oak Harbor participate in a talent show last spring. Whidbey Title 1 schools, all of which are elementary schools, are failing under the requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act. - 2014 File photo/Whidbey News-Times
Students at Broad View Elementary School in Oak Harbor participate in a talent show last spring. Whidbey Title 1 schools, all of which are elementary schools, are failing under the requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act.
— image credit: 2014 File photo/Whidbey News-Times

Within the next couple of weeks, many parents of Whidbey students will be receiving letters telling them that their elementary schools are failing them.

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

In late April, Washington state became the first state to lose its No Child Left Behind waiver.

The waiver allowed schools to disregard much of that law.

As a result of losing the waiver, Washington Title 1 schools must begin adhering to the law’s stringent policies.

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

“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, Gibbon said, there is a message he 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 elementary schools in the South Whidbey and Coupeville school districts.

Title 1 schools receive federal monies that require them to adhere to No Child Left Behind unless a waiver is in place.

To be an eligible Title I school, schools must meet one of a series of criteria set by the United States Department of Education. Those criteria are geared toward assisting the schools of low-income families.

In order to meet the No Child Left Behind requirements, the districts must inform parents that their child’s school failed to meet federal requirements and, for that reason, they have the option of transferring their children 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.

“This makes no sense,” Gibbon said.

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

Shawn Nowlin, who’s 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, say ‘My kid isn’t in Title 1,’ and they throw it away,” Nowlin said. Nowlin said that Title 1 funding has continually been cut and only affects the lower 25 percent of the students, decreasing its relevance in daily education.

Nowlin stressed 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. Both Gibbons and Nowlin said this standard is unreasonable.

“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.”

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen released a statement Thursday calling on Congress to reauthorize and update the Elementary and Secondary Education Act because nearly all of Washington state’s 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,” Larsen said. “These flawed standards for schools must be scrapped and replaced.”

Larsen joined other members of the Washington state Congressional delegation in asking the federal Department of Education in June to waive the letter requirement.

That request was denied.

“What’s most important now is that we all do our part to rectify this situation,” U.S. Sen. Patty Murray said in a statement, released in April.

“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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