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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Thousands of parents will get letters explaining why their kids’ school is failing

Thousands of Spokane-area households will soon receive a letter explaining that their child’s school is failing.

Spokane Public Schools alone is sending out more than 13,500 letters to parents in 29 schools.

The paperwork is a result of the U.S. Department of Education’s failure to renew a waiver for underperforming schools in Washington under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Washington is the only state to lose local control of federal dollars used to help students in those schools, which typically serve the poorest populations. The reason: Legislators refused to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores.

Without the waiver, schools are considered failing when one or more students do not pass state reading and/or math assessment tests, or less than 95 percent of the district’s students take the tests.

“With the bar being that all kids meet standard (on tests), we are sending out a fair amount of letters,” said Lorna Spears, Spokane Public Schools’ director of early learning and intervention.

The required letter explains parents have the option to change schools and seek additional academic support services, both of which will be paid for through federal money districts were forced to set aside. If a parent chooses a different school, transportation will be provided, the letters state.

Spokane Public Schools’ mailed message will also point out improvements made while the waiver was in place.

Central Valley School District will send a separate cover letter in addition to the mandatory one. Mead School District officials are still considering the option of an additional message.

“One of the reasons we didn’t send the (cover) letter is because we think the information is best coming from the principal or teachers of the school where your child attends,” Spears said.

Mead’s letters “are already pretty specific” about why two of its schools didn’t meet the federal measure, said Heather Havens, executive director of teaching and learning.

Central Valley School District has six schools that need improvement according to the federal guidelines. Those parents will receive three letters, one explaining the No Child Left Behind measurements, the required letter about their child attending a school that needs improvement and a third about the district’s successes.

“We certainly aren’t failing,” said Melanie Rose, district spokeswoman. “We are a successful district in many ways. It’s frustrating. We are doing well and our kids are doing well.”