We know our state’s basic education system is under-funded.
Our lawmakers are grappling with a state Supreme Court decision that mandates they find more dollars for education.
Teachers and school districts are frequently heard lamenting the level of funding provided.
So we find it baffling that the state education office wouldn’t do more to make sure we have the required student participation in statewide exams. Not meeting the federal requirement of 95 percent could mean the loss of federal dollars, among other sanctions.
A dozen states including our own received warning letters from the U.S. Department of Education for failing to meet the requirement. If the participation rate isn’t met in 2016, sanctions could be imposed.
And that could have a direct impact on funding. With every dollar so precious, we’re not sure why the federal requirement wasn’t adhered to in 2015. Washington came close with 91 percent but close only counts in … well, you know the rest.
Participation rates were just fine for grades 3-8, and sophomores turned out in good numbers because passing the state English-language arts test is a graduation requirement. The problem came at the high school junior level, where as many 30 percent of the 11th-graders statewide refused to take the math and language tests. Why? Because they don’t have to — it’s not required for graduation.
And therein lies the problem, we suspect.
If the state is required to have 95 percent participation, we’re not sure how it expects to get there if a third of the juniors in our state are allowed to opt out. Heck, they could all choose to opt out for all we know. Then there would be an even greater problem.
The state responded to the problem by telling districts and schools with unacceptable participation levels that they will have to do better next spring and put a plan in place to make that happen.
Seattle Public Schools had one of the highest refusal rates, with 43 percent of juniors opting out of the language test and 44 percent declining to take the math exam.
It’s a problem when the largest school district in the state had nearly half of its high school juniors skip the tests. In some smaller districts, the number of juniors refusing the test rose to 75 percent.
This isn’t the first time our state has thumbed its nose at the feds. Last time it cost us.
In 2014, the Secretary of Education yanked Washington’s No Child Left Behind Act waiver because the Legislature lacked the gumption to meet a federal requirement over including test scores as part of a teacher’s evaluation. The cost? School districts lost control over nearly $40 million in federal money. That got our attention and the Legislature found the political courage to include tests as one component to be considered in teacher evaluations.
You would think we would have learned from that. If the Legislature won’t require students to take the test, it’s up to teachers and parents to set the proper expectation and for the students to act responsibly.