C-W schools show success despite federal labels

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category icon Columns, Opinion

The start of school is just around the corner and the Camas and Washougal school districts are poised to open their doors to more than 10,000 local students. We look forward to welcoming these students and their families in the next week.

As we kick off the school year, most schools in our two districts, as well as across our state, are sending home letters to families indicating that their school is in “Improvement.” But this designation, part of the requirements of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, doesn’t accurately reflect the significant achievements and tremendous hard work of students and staff, especially here in Camas and Washougal.

For the past two years, Washington school districts have measured student growth using a process outlined in the state’s waiver to the No Child Left Behind Act. This waiver was not renewed for the 2014-2015 school year, requiring that schools in our state once again report Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). AYP is an annual measure of student achievement on state tests in reading and math. The goal is for 100 percent of all students to reach proficiency in both subjects by 2014. A requirement that even Education Secretary Arne Duncan had said repeatedly were unattainable.

Though the vast majority of schools in the state have not met this goal, students in Camas and Washougal have made significant gains in the last three years. Our schools, programs and students continue to be recognized at the state and national levels for their exceptional achievements. In fact, schools in both Camas and Washougal received the Washington Achievement Award for being among the top ten percent in the state in terms of student progress. There are local examples of schools that are required to send letters to parents indicating that their schools are “failing” although they are the same schools who have been recognized for their achievements.

At the state level, Washington’s students scored higher than the national average last year on both the SAT and ACT and made tremendous gains in reading and math. Our state also rose to eighth in the nation in students participating in Advanced Placement exams. In November 2013, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan personally congratulated our state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn for improvements made in every category of the National Assessment for Educational Progress. These achievements speak for themselves.

Federal mandates such as NCLB and AYP do not paint a full picture of a well-rounded education and fail to include achievement of students in areas that are very important to our communities, such as art, music, athletics, robotics, professional and technical programs and other learning opportunities that nurture young minds and inspire student growth and achievement.

The loss of waiver also comes with financial penalties for school districts. Districts that do not meet AYP are required to “set aside” 20 percent of their Title I funds they receive from the federal government. This money must be reserved either for private vendors to provide tutoring or to provide bus transportation for students who want to transfer to a school that did meet AYP. Money that goes unused for these purposes is returned to the district, but not until the school year is well underway and too late to be included in that year’s operating budget.

As educators, we are deeply committed to helping each and every student reach his or her full potential. We know there are students who have not reached proficiency, and we have targeted resources to assist those students. Our teachers spend countless hours collaborating and sharing strategies to help every learner succeed. Partnerships with families and the community help ensure that the goal of student success goes beyond the walls of our classrooms and taps into a vast sea of resources and opportunities that will help our students today and well into the future.

As superintendents, we recognize that our districts must strive to improve the educational program we offer our students on an ongoing basis. Every year we engage with our staff in efforts to increase student learning results and to encourage our students to grow, thrive, and be the best that they can be.

Our local schools are stronger than ever before and we couldn’t be prouder of our hard-working students and staff. Instead of labeling schools as ‘failing,’ here in Camas and Washougal we are choosing to celebrate the success of students.

Dawn Tarzian and Mike Nerland are the Washougal and Camas school district superintendents, respectively.