Washington schools will soon lose the one thing currently protecting them from the unpopular No Child Left Behind act. Back in 2012, Washington received a NCLB waiver along with 42 other states. The waiver was conditional, however, and required that the state implement a number of educational policies established by the Obama administration that would take the place of the NCLB act. Washington state has not met those requirements, and could soon be losing its waiver. The original NCLB Act was largely viewed as insufficient due to its reliance on standardized testing and mandated tutoring system that required struggling schools to set aside 20 percent of their federal aid for hiring tutors from the private sector—methods that were widely said to be dysfunctional. For Bridget Walker, an associate professor for the College of Education, standardized state tests rarely reflect the realities of student development in the classroom. “The issue from the perspective of teachers is that the process doesn’t take into account all of the different factors that impact student performance. Like socioeconomic status, diet, stress,” said Walker. “All of those things effect how kids perform.” It also ignores the specific characteristics of Seattle itself. Here we have a diverse population of students with different abilities and levels of English. According to Walker, standardized testing ignores all of that. “So the idea that high stakes testing actually represents student performance is questionable,” she said. The law expired in 2007, and Congress has yet to enact anything new. Because of this, the Obama administration started offering waivers to deal with some of the law’s most extreme policies. As part of this arrangement, the states receiving waivers had to abide by four reforms in line with Obama’s Education Plan. According to a fact sheet given out by the administration, these included reading and math standards of college and career-readiness, a better system of support for college-aimed credit, school interventions in times of need, and guidelines for educator evaluations. Now, Washington looks to be the first state to lose its waiver for failing to meet these standards. It joins Oregon and Kansas on a “high-risk” list of states in danger of losing their waiver. Washington originally received the waiver by ensuring the administration that it would finalize its teacher evaluation system. According to current law, teacher evaluation is based primarily on the discretion of local school districts to decide whether or not to utilize state standardized testing. Because of this, districts can use classroom tests instead of ones standardized by the state. A new bill in the Washington state legislature would have reconciled this issue by requiring schools to abide by standardized testing data. Due to bipartisan opposition, however, the law did not pass, and Washington now expects to lose the waiver. This could mean a return to inefficient NCLB policies. For example, one policy that required struggling schools to set aside 20 percent of their federal money for private tutors would be put back into effect. According to an article in the Seattle Times, under the waiver, this money—about $10.5 million—was utilized by schools differently depending on their specific needs. For example, Tacoma Public Schools used the money to fund preschool in six elementary schools, and pay for instructional coaches for teachers. Additionally, the waiver allowed Seattle to “reach about three times as many students.” Without the waiver, and due to the subsequent loss of “free” money, schools will have to reevaluate these programs—either finding ways to raise funds for them, or cutting them altogether. For Walker, this means that Washington’s already underfunded schools will be further penalized financially, and students will suffer the brunt of those losses. “Now the kids who need
the support aren’t going to get the support, so they’re not going to perform well on their state tests…My concern is, once that cycle gets started, it’ll be very hard for schools to dig out from under it,” said Walker.