Politics & Government

State’s plan to replace No Child Left Behind sets ‘very ambitious’ goals for schools and students

Sixth-grade students at Ballou Junior High in Puyallup work on classroom assignments during math studies in this photo from October 2015. Washington is now finishing its plan to comply with a new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced the widely criticized school accountability law No Child Left Behind.
Sixth-grade students at Ballou Junior High in Puyallup work on classroom assignments during math studies in this photo from October 2015. Washington is now finishing its plan to comply with a new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced the widely criticized school accountability law No Child Left Behind. Staff file, 2015

Parents won’t be getting letters home this year saying their children attend failing schools, or that their child’s teachers aren’t highly qualified.

Those and other aspects of the federal No Child Left Behind education law are a thing of the past, leaving Washington and other states to craft their own goals for how their schools should improve and grow.

Washington is finishing up its plan to comply with the replacement for No Child Left Behind, the new Every Student Succeeds Act.

Through Dec. 15, the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction is seeking comments on its plan to implement the new law.

Congress approved the federal education overhaul late last year, giving significant control over education to the states.

Under the new standards, “There are no federal penalties for struggling schools,” said Gil Mendoza, OSPI’s deputy superintendent of K-12 education.

“Instead, our goal is to provide resources for those schools,” Mendoza told members of the state Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee at a work session this month.

“No more nasty letters — we’ll give them resources, and we’re really excited about that,” he said.

No more nasty letters — we’ll give them resources, and we’re really excited about that.

Gil Mendoza, deputy superintendent of K-12 education, on changes under the new federal education law

In addition to eliminating the failing-school notices, schools no longer must have 100 percent of their students passing standardized tests in math and reading for their districts to retain full control of federal funding.

Instead, states must develop their own way of identifying low-performing schools, while helping local school districts to come up with plans to turn them around.

To help identify schools that need help, states must set long-term goals for improvement that are “ambitious and achievable,” according to OSPI documents.

That’s where Washington’s draft plan to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act comes in.

Under the proposed plan, students in elementary and middle schools wouldn’t be universally required to pass standardized tests in math and reading, as was the case under No Child Left Behind.

Rather, the state would consider whether the students are on track to meet standards in the future, incorporating a measurement of how much they are improving on statewide tests.

The goal would be to have all of those younger students either meeting standards or on track to meet standards in 20 years, while meeting interim benchmarks along the way.

It is very ambitious.

Ben Rarick, executive director of the State Board of Education, on the state’s plan to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act

“There is a renewed emphasis on student growth in this plan,” said Ben Rarick, executive director of the State Board of Education, at the Senate work session this month.

The number of federally mandated tests students must take, however, would remain the same.

For high school students, the state’s proposed goal doesn’t incorporate student growth, but instead would seek to have 90 percent of students passing statewide math and English tests by the 2027-28 school year.

High school students in Washington generally take the required Smarter Balanced assessments in math and language arts once in 11th grade.

At this month’s work session, retiring state Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, questioned whether the 90 percent goal was realistic, given that some groups such as English language learners now are testing at only about 20 percent proficiency on the English language arts test.

“That’s going to be challenging,” she said.

“It is very ambitious,” Rarick replied.

For high schoolers, the draft plan also aims to have a four-year graduation rate of 90 percent by 2026 among all student groups.

For the Class of 2015, the statewide four-year graduation rate was 78.1 percent.

The state has pursued a compliance-based approach maintaining the status quo, rather than adopting a more flexible and innovative approach

Kim Mead, president of the Washington Education Association, in a letter criticizing the state’s proposal

Some groups, such as students in foster care or those who speak limited English, graduated at much lower rates.

The plan’s components, as well as the way it was developed, have prompted objections from some members of the state’s education community, including the statewide teacher’s union.

In a letter dated Nov. 9, Kim Mead, the president of the Washington Education Association, wrote that the union “cannot support this plan as drafted,” in part because of its “rushed timeline” and continued reliance on standardized testing and graduation rates to assess schools and student achievement.

“The state has pursued a compliance-based approach maintaining the status quo, rather than adopting a more flexible and innovative approach to support and enrich student learning and growth,” Mead’s letter says.

“We owe it to our students not to repeat the failed experiment that was NCLB,” Mead wrote, using the common abbreviation for No Child Left Behind.

The state has set up an online public comment survey that will accept feedback on the draft plan through the end of the day on Dec. 15.

Washington’s plan to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act is designed to take effect at the start of the 2017-18 school year.

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209, @melissasantos1

To comment

The state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction is accepting public comments through Dec. 15 on Washington’s plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

To learn about the online plan and submit online comments, go to bit.ly/2gpG5Y3.

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