August 23, 2014 in Washington Voices

Letters rankle educators Notices about failing Valley schools, districts misleading, they say

By The Spokesman-Review
School status letters

Parents in these Valley school districts should receive letters:

Central Valley: Adams, Broadway, Opportunity, McDonald, University and Progress.

East Valley: East Farms STEAM Magnet School, Trentwood

West Valley: Centennial Middle School, Orchard Center and Ness elementary schools

School districts in the Spokane Valley area are, like districts around the state, sending out letters to parents explaining why their school and district is failing.

The letters are a requirement of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which uses student test scores to determine whether “adequate yearly progress” has been made at school.

In the East Valley School District, Interim Superintendent Tom Gresch included a cover letter expressing his frustration with the requirement.

“The label of ‘failing’ schools is regressive and punitive, as nearly every Washington school will not meet the NCLB (No Child Left Behind) requirements,” the letter said.

“It’s a slap in the face,” he said in an interview. “It’s a complete and utter untruth” that the schools are failing.

Washington is the only state that has lost its waiver from the U.S. Department of Education, and therefore must send the letters. The waiver wasn’t renewed when state legislators refused to link teacher evaluations to student test scores.

Each district and school is rated using data from the 2010-11 school year and the 2013-14 school year. For every year the district or school does not make adequate yearly progress, they reach another step in improvement, with different consequences along the way. At the district level, there are two steps. At the school level, there are five.

Parents can expect a letter about their district’s status as well as their student’s school’s status. East Valley and Central Valley districts are both in step two and the West Valley district is in step one.

Along with the letters, districts must set aside 20 percent of their Title 1 funding – federal money for low-income schools – for after-school tutoring, transportation and other programs.

Gresch said that one problem with the federal requirements is that all students must meet the standards, which does not take into consideration students with special needs or students dealing with loss or major life upheavals.

Otis Orchards and Trentwood elementary schools are in step one of school improvement, meaning this is the first year they did not make “adequate yearly progress.” East Farms STEAM Magnet School is in step two and Trent is in step four.

Not included in the list of failing schools in East Valley is East Valley Middle School. Before the district went to an all K-8 system, the school was in step four of school improvement.

“It’s a new entity in the eyes of the state,” Gresch said.

Parents whose children attend a school that is not making adequate yearly progress may transfer their children to another school under the requirements. In EVSD, at the elementary level, parents could transfer their children to Continuous Curriculum School, which is already a choice school but works under a modified school year. The school year at CCS started Aug. 12, while the district’s other schools start Wednesday.

“If a parent wants to make a move, we will help them,” Gresch said.

Gresch said the situation is frustrating and said East Valley schools are successful.

“We are always going to provide the best educational opportunities for our kids,” he said.

In Central Valley Schools, parents have the option of moving their students from six affected elementary schools.

However, many schools in the district are closed to transfers because they are full. The district is offering only two schools, South Pines and Ponderosa elementary schools, for choice.

“They cannot pick which school they want to go to,” said Melanie Rose, spokeswoman for the district. There are certain grades available at each school, so Rose said it is possible parents who have more than one child and want to transfer their children may have them in different schools.

Rose said the letters about choosing another school went out Thursday.

In West Valley schools, Superintendent Gene Sementi said the district sent out around 4,000 letters this week to explain that the district in step one and additional letters to families with students at Centennial Middle School, Orchard Center and Ness elementary schools. Sementi said most families should have received them last Saturday or Monday.

Seth Woodard is in its first year of not making adequate yearly progress, and Sementi expects those families will receive a letter next year if the state does not get its waiver back.

At the middle school level, only one parent has called since the letters went out, Sementi said. The parent has a special needs student and Sementi said the staff reassured the parent their student would still receive the help needed. At Ness, there have been two calls and the staff is working to contact those parents and at Orchard Center, one parent of a kindergarten student called to transfer their child to Seth Woodard for its parent-involved SPICE program.

“It’s a fallacy to think that one school is going to be passing and another is not,” Sementi said.

He said he is frustrated and the situation is very aggravating.

“We think we do an outstanding job,” Sementi said. “We’re very proud of the work we do. We’re very proud of the students we have.”

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