D.C. officials yesterday began notifying parents at as many as 80 low-performing public schools that they are entitled under federal law to transfer their children this fall to other schools in the system.
But several parent activists expressed concern that the letters did not go out sooner, saying that parents who want to take advantage of the transfer option have little time left to arrange the move. They also complained that officials have yet to release a final list of all the schools required to offer transfers or the list of schools that will accept such students.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress on test scores for two years in a row are classified as "in need of improvement" and must provide parents with the choice of moving their children to better-performing schools. Each so-called sending school is paired with one or more receiving schools.
D.C. school officials compiled such lists more than two weeks ago, based on results of the Stanford 9 tests taken by students this spring. According to a draft document obtained by The Washington Post, 80 schools -- more than half of the 147 schools in the system -- are in the "in need of improvement" category, up from 68 schools last year.
But D.C. schools spokeswoman Alexis Moore said that list is not final and the total number of low-performing schools could change. She said that all the information will be released by the end of this week and that parents will have until Aug. 18 to file transfer applications.
"This year, we tried very hard to enhance the process by doing a thorough scrubbing of the data," Moore said. She said School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey is "making sure we have correct [test-score] data for every child in the system."
Some education activists nevertheless complained about the timing and said parents should have been notified sooner.
"This is Aug. 1, and school starts Aug. 29 -- you're not giving parents enough time," said Cherita Whiting, who is on the board of directors of the citywide PTA. "It's an inconvenience for parents to take off from work to get the transfer forms," she added. "You're also going to want to visit the [receiving] schools and speak with the principals."
In Maryland, officials in June released the list of schools required to provide transfers. Virginia officials, however, have yet to do so.
Last year, District officials did not issue the transfer information until early August, and some school activists said the late notice was one reason only 106 of roughly 30,000 eligible students opted to switch schools.
The list of 80 low-performing D.C. schools in this year's draft document includes 43 elementary schools, 20 middle and junior high schools, 12 senior high schools and five special education centers.
School officials have lined up numerous receiving schools for students transferring out of elementary, middle and junior high schools. But with all but four of the city's senior high schools listed as needing improvement, the school system is not planning to give senior high students the option of transferring.
School board member Tommy Wells (District 3) said he is concerned that school officials also have yet to announce what will happen at each of the schools that failed to make adequate yearly progress for three or more years. This spring, Janey announced a plan that will subject those schools to such measures as replacement of the principal and teaching staff or takeover by outside management teams.
Some schools were told in the spring that they should expect some dramatic changes in the fall, Wells said. But most of them have not been given any details and remain in limbo, he added.
"This narrow window is creating a lot of anxiety for the staff and parents on what can be expected," Wells said.
Mark Roy, a member of the school restructuring team at Eastern Senior High School in Northeast Washington, said a school system official announced in June that the school's staff would be replaced. He said the staff learned only yesterday that it will remain in place after all.
"It was stressful -- the fear of the unknown. Questions went unanswered. Morale went down," Roy said.
He said school system officials opted to bring in a special team to oversee the school rather than reassign staff because "they waited too late."
"There's no way they can [reassign staff] at this late date," he said. "They don't have anywhere to send the teachers, and they don't have any new teachers lined up."
Staff writers Rosalind S. Helderman and Ylan Q. Mui contributed to this report.