Thousands of Tri-City parents will receive letters from their school districts in the coming days telling them their children's schools are failing.
The Kennewick School District sent out 3,000 letters to parents of students at Amistad, Edison, Eastgate, Westgate and Hawthorne elementary schools; and Park Middle School this week, district spokeswoman Robyn Chastain said.
Letters were sent to families of Richland's Jefferson Elementary School this week, and others for Sacajawea, Marcus Whitman and Tapteal elementary schools will be sent later this month. Pasco will send letters to all its families.
The letters are required after the state lost its waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act earlier this year. The law requires consistent academic improvement until every student is meeting standards. The inability of any one group of students to meet those benchmarks labels a school and even a district as failing.
Educators and lawmakers around the state and country have blasted those labels, saying the law is outdated and flawed.
"We don't apply that standard to anything else in our society," said Kennewick Superintendent Dave Bond.
The Tri-City districts aren't taking the tack of some of their counterparts west of the Cascades, which have included a second letter decrying the federal law. However, local district administrators said they are frustrated.
"It's frankly a nonsensical situation we have to jump through," said Richland Assistant Superintendent Erich Bolz.
Federal education officials revoked the state's waiver from No Child Left Behind earlier this year after the Legislature failed to tie teacher evaluations into student test scores. State Superintendent Randy Dorn made a final plea to Washington, D.C., in late June to not require the letters, but he was rejected.
The letters inform parents of why their child's school is failing, options to transfer to more successful schools within the district or receive additional educational support, and what the district is doing to improve the school's performance.
Unlike in Pasco, not every Kennewick or Richland parent will receive a letter. They will only be sent to those with children at schools that receive federal and state aid for low-income families and that have failed to make required academic progress for at least two years, officials said. However, those districts may have to send another letter to all district parents if the district itself is labeled as failing.
Many Pasco and Kennewick families won't even be able to take advantage of the option to transfer to a better school in their district -- no Pasco schools or Kennewick elementary schools are meeting standards, so they aren't eligible to receive students.
Some Richland students could use their school's designation to move to another school, Bolz said. But some of the schools labeled as failing have been recognized as Distinguished Schools by the state and have higher test scores in some areas compared with the schools they can transfer to.
"Our parent community is generally happy with their neighborhood schools and they should be," Bolz said.
Bond agrees with a statement released by the Puget Sound Educational Service District criticizing the federal law and acknowledging the accomplishments of its schools and districts, he said. The educational service district serves districts in King and Pierce counties.
Educational Service District 123, which serves the Tri-Cities, is considering sending a similarly themed letter to parents, as are Kennewick administrators if they are required to send a district-wide letter, he said.
"Our schools aren't failing by any stretch of the imagination," Bond said.
District officials in all three local districts said their schools aren't perfect, noting the challenges facing their low-income, English language learner and special education students. But they noted that their schools are doing a good job with students and have made gains in recent years that have been recognized by the state.
"I just think it's very unfortunate that our schools are labeled as failing because of the actions of the Legislature," said Pasco Assistant Superintendent Glenda Cloud.
-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald