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If Feds Say All Schools Are 'Failing,' Which Wash. Schools Will Actually Get Help?

Students at Salmon Bay School in Seattle. The house voted to cut $42 million from programs to reduce class sizes in grades K-4.
Ted S. Warren
AP Photo
Students at Salmon Bay School in Seattle.

If the state's recent loss of its waiver from the No Child Left Behind law means the feds will label almost every Washington school as "failing," which schools are actually struggling enough to receive formal help?

Washington's top elected school official answered that question Tuesday, releasing lists of more than 280 struggling schools — more than twice as many as last year — that will receive $11 million worth of help in the form of state-aided planning and teacher training.

A disagreement over teacher evaluations cost Washington its waiver, which set aside a provision of the 2001 law many now see as outdated: by 2014, No Child Left Behind requires 100 percent of the nation's students to pass statewide, standardized English and math tests.

If Washington provided help to all the schools that fell short of that mandate, the list would grow absurdly long, deputy state superintendent Alan Burke said, and state officials needed a way to "triage" the list of schools in need of state support.

To do that, the state superintendent's office leaned on practically the same method they used while the waiver was still in place to designate "focus" and "priority" schools.

Burke said that method has its advantages. For one, he explained it identifies struggling schools "based on three years of test scores in reading and math. In the old system, it was just one year [of data]. We think three years is a lot better track record about how schools have done."

Graduation rates and the schools' scores on the Washington Achievement Index were also factors as state officials drew up their lists.

Schools on the lists of "focus" and "priority" schools receive what Burke termed "shoulder-to-shoulder" assistance from coaches in the state's Office of Student and School Success. Burke said the list of 283 schools was just manageable enough for that team of coaches to handle.

"We're stretching pretty thin. We're going to hire more coaches this year," he said, adding, "The reality is we're still trying to use the model that has been successful and just be able to touch more schools."

Here's the list of "priority" schools. And here's the list of "focus" schools. Find more on what earned them those labels here.

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.