Washington is one of 12 states that could face sanctions if it fails to get more students to take state exams next spring.
The U.S. Department of Education has sent warning letters to Washington and the 11 other states where participation rates on state reading and math tests fell below the required 95 percent.
Statewide participation rate was about 91 percent, according to the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, with many high-school juniors refusing to take the exams.
In the Tri-Cities, roughly 80 percent of juniors in Kennewick skipped the tests, while up to half of Richland’s juniors opted to not take them.
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If states do little or nothing to raise participation rates, the federal Education department could place them on high-risk status, issue a cease-and-desist order and/or withhold a portion of the state’s federal education funding, according to the letter, which Education Week posted last week.
In a response sent Dec. 2, Washington state’s education office wrote that schools and districts here with lower-than-required participation will have to come up with a plan to increase their rates next spring. The office will provide additional information for schools and school districts to share with their communities about what the federal government requires and how test results are used.
“The plan must address the causes of the low participation rate and the actions the district and/or schools will take in response to the low participation rate,” Assistant Superintendent Gayle Pauley wrote.
Washington schools had no problem meeting the required participation rate in grades three through eight. Participation rates were also high for high-school sophomores, who have to pass the state’s English language-arts test to graduate.
The numbers were much lower for juniors, who weren’t required to take the tests for graduation. About 30 percent of juniors across the state were confirmed refusals for both the English/language arts and math tests, according to state test data.
One of the districts with a high refusal rate was Seattle Public Schools, where 43 percent of juniors opted out of the English-language arts test, and 44 percent opted out of the math test. Other nearby districts had even higher rates – preliminary data showed more than three-quarters of juniors in the Bainbridge Island, Issaquah, Enumclaw and Snoqualmie Valley school districts refused to take the tests.
The other states that received warning letters are: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Maine, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island and Wisconsin, according to Education Week.
Even though the federal government recently passed a new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, the 95 percent participation requirement is one of the elements of the old No Child Left Behind law that isn’t going away, along with required testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school.