- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 27, 2014

SEATTLE (AP) - Washington public school students are doing about as well on state tests as they have done over the past few years, but many more schools are failing to meet federal standards because the rules have changed, state education officials announced Wednesday.

During a news conference, Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn called those federal requirements crazy.

Washington had a two-year reprieve from some requirements of the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind and then in April the federal government took away the waiver and forced Washington to go back to the old system. More than 1,900 schools out of about 2,200 in Washington were labeled as failing in 2014 because of the No Child Left Behind system.

The biggest changes on Washington test scores this year were a drop of 5.9 percent in the number of 7th graders who passed the math exam and an increase of 5.4 percent in the number of 8th graders who met the reading standard.

Eighth grade and 6th grade classes did better on every test than their counterparts did last year. Significant improvements also were recorded on the high school biology and algebra tests.

When the scores are examined by ethnic group, Washington kids who are Hispanic, Native American, black, Hawaiian or Pacific Islander continue to trail well behind their white and Asian classmates on the statewide tests. Progress on closing the achievement gaps was mixed.

Dorn said all Washington children will not succeed in school and on achievement tests until they all have the same advantages both in the classroom and at home, including access to computers and field trips.

Some creative approaches to addressing the achievement gap lost funding when Washington lost its federal waiver, Dorn notes. He mentioned as an example a program at a Tacoma high school that added hours of instruction each day as well as special experiences on weekends and in the summer.

“By losing our waiver, we’ve had to do some things I think are ridiculous, stupid, ineffective and a waste of resources,” he said.

The waiver gave Washington school districts creative control over about $40 million.

Forty-two other states and the District of Columbia have been granted waivers as a temporary measure while the U.S. Department of Education works with Congress to rewrite the No Child Left Behind law.

Dorn said it isn’t fair that Washington schools have to pay the price for rules that should be changed by Congress and he’s frustrated that the Legislature has not been willing or able to pass a law that would get Washington’s waiver back.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has told Washington it can have its waiver back as soon as it changes its teacher-evaluation system to include student achievement on statewide academic tests as a factor in judging teachers.

Dorn said he will be pushing the Legislature again next year to make that change, which failed to pass during the 2014 legislative session.

There also was some good news in Dorn’s report: more than 90 percent of the students in the class of 2014 passed the tests they needed to graduate and Washington’s graduation rate has reached about 80 percent.

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