28 superintendents fire back after schools get failing marks

KENT, Wash. -- Nearly every school in Washington is failing, at least according to the No Child Left Behind federal proficiency standards.

Soon, parents will be receiving letters from those school districts explaining the failing marks. With it they'll also get a letter signed by 28 state superintendents who insist the standards and failure label are antiquated, punitive and wrong.

Superintendents and some parents insist the testing standards don't account for other student and school achievement.

"We have kids that are succeeding and being labeled as failure it's very unfortunate and I don't think it's fair," said Patty Phavong, a parent with four students currently in the Tukwila School District.

The Superintendent says every school in the Tukwila district is considered a failure -- including Phavong's daughter's middle school.

"We're not actually failures because we are working our best to do what we need to do at school," said Sudee Phavong, a sixth grader at one of Tukwila's middle schools.

During a Wednesday news conference, John Welch, Superintendent of Puget Sound Educational Services District, said a school is labeled "failing" under the No Child Left Behind Act, if 100 percent of its students do not meet proficiency requirements in reading and math.

"Even if one student isn't proficient, that school is a failing school," Welch said. "We think that is absolutely the wrong message to send parents."

Welch was flanked and supported by five other superintendents and a high school principal at Wednesday's news conference held at the Kent School District's Headquarters.

"No Child Left Behind is outdated and unrealistic and it's not helping us," said Carla Santorno, Tacoma Schools Superintendent.

Santorno said the failing grade doesn't account for its district's other successes. In 2010 the graduation rate in Tacoma was 55 percent, while this year they hope to reach 85 percent.

In the Tukwila School District, every school is also failing.

"I can guarantee we are not a failing district," said Nancy Coogan, Tukwila Schools Superintendent.

It's a district of 3,000 students with more than 80 languages spoken. Superintendent Coogan says 100 percent of students meeting federal proficiency standards regardless of special needs and English language mastery makes no sense.

The failing label also means sanctions -- about 20 percent of a school's Title 1 Funds must be used for tutoring or transferred to a school that is not failing.

"We rely on every penny of federal title 1 funds for our most at-risk students," said Coogan.

Parents like Phavong worry what she called a "failing-mislabel" will misguide teachers.

"They're trying to get the teachers to pass the kids and time is spent so much getting them ready to take a test just trying to meet the number," said Phavong.

Over the last two school years our state received a waiver on those federal proficiency standards, but this year the U.S. Department of Education refused to renew the waiver.

This came after the state reportedly failed to meet various education reform commitments.