By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News
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By Donna Gordon Blankinship
The Associated Press
SEATTLE — Despite opposition from teachers and their union about new national education standards and the tests that will judge how they are being taught, the state is plowing ahead with its plans to embrace Common Core.
Washington state adopted the standards for math and English in 2011 and began using them in its public schools the following school year.
This past spring, tests being developed to gauge how well students are learning the new standards were piloted in districts in the state.
During the 2014-15 school year, the new tests will be used instead of the previous state-developed testing system.
Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is creating the math and English tests.
Washington teachers and their union have expressed concern about both the new education standards and the tests, saying they need more time to get used to the program before being judged on how well their students are doing.
Washington law says students in the class of 2019 will be expected to pass the new tests in English language arts and math to earn their diploma.
The Washington Education Association used the rush toward the new national standards as one reason to stop the state Legislature from changing the state’s teacher evaluation system to include data from statewide tests.
The teacher’s union said it will take years to implement the new curriculum and get used to the tests, so it doesn’t make sense to grade teachers on their students’ scores on those tests.
In part because of that argument, the 2014 Legislature failed to change its teacher evaluation system to meet the demands of federal education officials.
Because of that inaction, Washington state lost its waiver from some requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Law.
Along with the waiver, Washington school districts lost control of about $40 million in federal education dollars and were forced to go back to the old system of evaluating schools.
In addition to passing the new national tests for math and English Language Arts, students in the class of 2019 must pass a science end-of-course exam or a yet-to-be-adopted science test being developed by another national group.
Joe Willhoft, executive director of Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, the national group creating the math and English tests, said the high school test will determine whether a student is ready to take college-level classes in those subjects.
But Willhoft, a former Washington state education official, said that may not be the appropriate standard for a graduation exam, since college readiness is a goal of K-12 education but not yet a diploma requirement.
Three North Olympic Peninsula public schools have been told they need major reorganization after failing to meet federal testing standards for six consecutive years.
Two of the schools — Neah Bay Junior/Senior High School and Forks Elementary School — already are taking steps while a third, Sequim Middle School, is holding to a wait-and-see attitude.
The three schools are subject to the highest level of sanctions outlined by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 after having reached Step 5 in the 2013-14 school year.
The federal sanctions have five steps. Step 1 is for schools that have not met standards for two consecutive years.
Each year of failing to meet standards moves the school up another step.
Standards are based on state tests approved by the federal government, which sets adequate yearly progress goals for schools and districts in math and reading.
Since 2002, federal requirements had increased each year the percentage of students who must pass state exams.
The goal for the 2013-14 school year was that all children in all grade levels would pass state tests in those areas.
The state had a waiver that protected schools from federal standards. The U.S. Department of Education revoked the waiver in April.
Under Step 5, public schools must offer students transfer to a school that is not on the list of failing schools and must restructure.
That could include replacement of a portion of the school staff.
Officials at none of the three schools are planning to fire any staff.
How will it work?
Washington state was the first in the nation to lose its waiver, so it is unknown how sanctions will be applied, said Sequim Middle School Principal Vince Riccobene.
Also, the state plans to switch its testing system in the next school year from the state Measurements of Student Progress to the national Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium’s exam connected with new Common Core curriculum.
It is unclear how the state will define passing scores or how the standards will translate from one test to another, said Riccobene, who begins his first year as principal this month after Brian Jones’ retirement.
“We don’t know the new rules,” he said. “We’re in a new assessment now.”
Sequim students were part of a pilot project last school year, taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment exam instead of the Measurements of Student Progress test.
No major reorganizations at the middle school are planned, at least until officials know what the new requirements will be.
Each year, the district will issue a letter to parents, required under the federal system, informing them that the school failed to reach standards and will continue to re-examine the school improvement plan, Riccobene said.
In Forks, the Quillayute Valley School District is in the final steps of restructuring kindergarten through grade eight to address Forks Elementary School’s Step 5 status.
The school began working to improve test scores in 2013 and the Quillayute Valley School Board approved the changes April 22.
“Part of the restructuring process is due to trying to get all of our third-graders to grade level reading, Superintendent Diana Reaume said last week.
The district created a junior high school for the seventh and eighth grades in an unused building and moved the fourth and fifth grades to the former Forks Middle School, where they join the sixth grade at the newly designated Forks Intermediate School.
Forks Elementary now houses pre-kindergarten through third-grade, with a full-day pre-kindergarten for low-income children.
“We’re concentrating our efforts there to be really proactive,” Reaume said.
Like Sequim, Quillayute Valley students were part of the pilot project in taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment tests last school year.
The scores from 2012 and 2013 from measurements of student progress tests were used to determine the school’s score.
Neah Bay Junior/High School has had improving test scores each year, but not enough to meet standards, Principal Matt Vandeleur said.
Vandeleur replaces Ann Renker, who departed in June to take a position with the state after announcing she would leave in January.
While Renker’s departure was not related to the Step 5 requirements, it did satisfy a portion of them, Vandeleur said.
“It worked out well,” he said.
Vandeleur said the school will provide transportation to any student who prefers to attend Clallam Bay School, the district’s other school, if any apply.
Although Clallam Bay School also failed to have all of its students pass the state tests, it has failed to meet federal standards for only one year.
The Neah Bay Junior/Senior High will offer an after-school tutoring program and the staff will take a new look at the school improvement plan, Vandeleur said.
This year, students in the third-through-eighth grades, as well as 11th-grade students, will begin taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment, the Common Core-based exam, next spring.
“It’s kind of a whole new world,” Vandeleur said.
The district introduced Common Core-aligned curriculum into the classroom in the 2013-14 school year, he said.
Vandeleur was uncertain how the state and federal authorities will determine student progress as the exams are changed.
“It’s apples to oranges,” he said.