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Guest Editorial

How many kids left behind in Washington?

MARSHA RICHARDS

Last fall, Washington's Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson released the names of schools that failed to make "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) in the 2003-04 school year, as required by federal law.

The good news: The number of low-performing schools dropped significantly from 436 in 2003 to 281 in 2004.

The bad news: Most of the progress can be credited to lower standards, not higher academic achievement. In fact, some of the now-passing schools even regressed academically.

It took weeks of data-crunching by Evergreen Freedom Foundation staff to determine how schools would have measured up in 2004 if the standards had not been lowered. While we didn't have access to some key data, we were able to identify 577 schools that would have failed AYP based on the original benchmarks. Complete data would likely increase the number significantly.

It was Superintendent Bergeson who determined what it means for Washington students to succeed under federal law. Schools must meet annual benchmarks to ensure that all students (regardless of their ethnic and socio-economic background) are proficient in reading and math by 2014.

Low-performing schools face varying degrees of sanctions. Schools that fail to meet benchmarks for two consecutive years or more must provide students with successful public and/or private alternatives.

When more than 400 schools failed to meet the standards in 2003, Bergeson "improved performance" by lowering the bar. Her decision means that hundreds or even thousands of students in low-performing schools have been sentenced to a second-rate education and deprived of successful academic alternatives. Their plight is being called an "improvement," and the "improvement" is being used to justify demands for hundreds of millions of dollars in new education spending.

Is it fair to leave kids behind so adults can protect their reputations and justify higher education taxes? I don't think so.

Marsha Richards represents the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a non-profit public policy research organization.

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