ILWACO — Washington schools could face federal sanctions after statewide participation in exams fell below the requirement. While Ilwaco High School just missed the standard, it’s unknown how punishments would affect the school if the state doesn’t raise its participation rate this spring.

The U.S. Department of Education sent letters to 12 states where participation rates for state tests dropped below the required 95 percent.

The federal agency could place Washington on high-risk status, issue a cease-and-desist order and/or withhold part of the state’s education funding If the state doesn’t raise its rate of 91 percent, according to the letter.

Statewide, more than 50 percent of high school juniors refused to take the math test and roughly 46 percent didn’t participate in the English Language Arts exam, according to the State Report Card. At Ilwaco High School, participation rates hovered just below 95 percent.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn said It’s still unclear which schools the possible federal sanctions would impact.

Last month, Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaces the 13-year-old No Child Left Behind Act.

The new law aims to give more flexibility to states to help under-performing schools. While the 95 percent participation standard survived the new act, federal guidelines for the act won’t be determined until March.

Amy Huntley, Ocean Beach School District program coordinator, said Ilwaco missed the math participation standard by two percentage points and reading tests by less than a percentage point.

“It’s scary that those guidelines aren’t set yet,” Huntley said. She said even if Ilwaco met the rate, they could lose Title I funding, which goes toward schools in low-income communities.

Dorn said he anticipated the state would be responsible for meting out any sanctions. He said he believed schools that didn’t meet the testing requirements will face sanctions — though he wasn’t sure what that will look like or how it will impact school districts.

Huntley said Ilwaco fell behind because 12 students were taking classes at Clatsop Community College as a part of the Running Start Program, which allows Ilwaco students to finish their classes while collecting college credit.

“We were asking them to come back to the high school for eight hours of testing,” she said, adding that the incentive for students to take the tests are to be able to take college courses — something that’s not alluring for kids already in college.

While more students will be enrolled in the program next year, Huntley said most of them have already qualified for the English Language Arts assessments, so teachers will only have to ask students to return for the math exam.

Dorn said schools with the lowest participation rates typically had the highest achievement rates and didn’t receive Title I funding.

“Some schools told students they didn’t have to take the exams,” Dorn said, adding that some teachers said they disagreed with statewide exams.

“If anybody does this again this spring, there could be repercussions,” he said.

Dorn said on a state level, students who have finished Algebra II will be allowed to take their math exams before their junior year to reduce the number of tests they have to take around ACT and SAT times.

“We’re trying to make it easier for students, while also making it clear that these tests are required,” Dorn said. “It’s not only the law, these tests are an important indicator of how our system is doing.”

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