Washington State Toes the Federal Line
President Bush announced Wednesday the unconditional approval of Washington's education accountability plan.
The plan aligns the state's learning standards with the federal regulations outlined in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,
also called the No Child Left Behind Act.
Mary Alice Heuschel, deputy superintendent with the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, was in Washington, D.C., to
receive the news. Washington is the 16th state to have its accountability plan approved by the U.S. Department of Education.
"It's been two years in development," Heuschel said of Washington's plan. "Approval is a huge success for Washington state."
Reauthorized by Bush in 2001, the ESEA came with a passel of new requirements for states, school districts, teachers and staff. The
requirements include highly qualified teachers in every classroom, annual testing for every student in grades three to eight and regular
reporting of test results to parents and the public.
Next comes a lot of hard work, Heuschel said, to implement the state plan. "That will take continued partnerships with OSPI," she said.
"The partnerships with parents and other stakeholders need to continue to help Washington kids."
School districts now will be responsible for the new requirements in measuring and reporting whether schools are making "adequate yearly
Based on previous years' scores on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, Washington officials have come up with a percentage by which every school must improve its test scores each year until 2014, when they should all be at 100percent. Starting with this
year's WASL, on which students now are working, results will be separated into categories: five ethnic groups, economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, students with limited English proficiency and all students.
The percentage gain in WASL scores has to be met not only by the students as a whole, but also by each of those distinct groups. Just
one group not meeting the target identifies the whole school as not making sufficient progress.
"I feel that with the WASL, it's helped us be more clear about setting standards, but I'm really nervous about the national government getting so involved," Shadle Park High School English teacher Jaki Lake said. "It's really comparing apples to oranges -- kids aren't the same from year to year. There are lots of other
factors besides a test to measure school success."
About 50 schools throughout the state already have been labeled as not making adequate yearly progress based on old ESEA requirements.
None is in Spokane County.
After two years of not making adequate yearly progress, schools are considered to be in need of improvement. At that point, the school
will be informed of its status by the state, and will be responsible for notifying parents of the designation and the reason for it. If
that school receives federal Title I money -- which provides extra academic support for children from low-income families -- parents
will be able to choose another school for their children to attend, if they want, at the district's expense.
Heuschel said it is a "huge struggle" to meet certain components of the ESEA financially. But she said compared with many other states,
Washington is in "really good condition."
"We've had education reform for 10 years," she said, "and many systems were already in place."
One of those systems is the WASL, which tests fourth-, seventh- and 10th-graders. By 2006, the accountability plan says the state also
will have reading and math assessments for third-, fifth-, sixth- and eighth-graders.
This doesn't sit well with the WASL critics, who question the validity of the existing tests.
"State leaders need to stand up and speak out against the ESEA," said Spanaway's Juanita Doyon, organizer of Mothers Against WASL and a
member of ACT NOW -- Advocates for Children and Teachers National OrganizingWorkshop. "Children don't come standard. There will always be different levels of competency."
State schools Superintendent Terry Bergeson said that there are still parts of the ESEA that are of concern -- specifically the testing of English language learners and special-education students and that she's committed to working with the Department of Education to
"We're going to work for more flexibility," Heuschel said, "to do what's best for kids and teachers."
Bush OKs state's education plan
May 1, 2003
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES