(Updates with Department of Education statement)
By Victoria Cavaliere
SEATTLE, Aug 14 (Reuters) - Superintendents from 28 Washington state school districts have begun sending letters to parents that criticize the classification of many schools in the state as failing under federal standards, education officials said on Thursday.
A large number of schools in Washington's 295 districts this year will receive a failing grade under the federal No Child Left Behind education law, which ties U.S. funding to students' performance on standardized tests and penalizes schools for low performance.
In April, Washington became the first state to lose a waiver exempting it from some of the law's requirements after its state legislature declined to link student test scores to teacher evaluations.
The loss of the waiver placed new restrictions on how schools can spend $40 million in federal dollars each year and also subjected them to the failing label if 100 percent of students were not performing on level in math and reading.
Though the list of schools to be classified as failing by the U.S. Department of Education will not be released until Aug. 27, superintendents in the Puget Sound area, which includes Seattle and Tacoma, this week began informing parents via mail of some schools' failing status.
"Some of our state's and districts' most successful and highly recognized schools are now being labeled 'failing' by an antiquated law that most educators and elected officials - as well as the U.S. Department of Education - acknowledge isn't working," the letter said.
Peter Daniels, a spokesman for the Puget Sound Educational Service District, said the letter was trying "to point out some of the absurdity of the standards."
The Department of Education said: "We recognize that it is challenging to revert from flexibility back to the requirements of the prescriptive, one-size-fits-all mandates of the No Child Left Behind law."
"We will continue to work with state leaders through this transition," it said in a statement.
The No Child Left Behind program has been criticized by some teachers and education experts as an unfunded and unfair mandate on schools, as well as an inaccurate measure of student performance because of its reliance on standardized test scores.
The Department of Education has awarded No Child Left Behind waivers to 43 states and the District of Columbia. Three other states - Arizona, Kansas, and Oregon - are at "high risk" of losing their waivers, according to education officials. (Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)