September 2, 2008

19 Area Schools Falling Short of Standards

By James Joyce III

State education officials Thursday morning released the list of schools that failed to meet federal guidelines for adequate yearly progress. Thirty percent of the schools facing the most severe sanctions are in the Yakima Valley area.

Out of the 64 schools statewide that have been placed on Step 5 of "needs improvement" status, 19 of them are in Yakima or Grant counties. Of that, eight of the schools are in the Yakima School District and 10 were also in Step 5 last year. Under that stage of school improvement, the district must restructure the school.

Four schools made it off the "needs improvement" list this year, including Compass High School in Grandview.

The annual progress report card is released each August to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind law. For the progress report, schools are judged on 37 categories of achievement, which are largely gauged by student performance on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. Schools that have done poorly on the exams for two years in a row are deemed failing to meet "adequate yearly progress."

Schools are also assessed on the performance of students from five racial and ethnic groups, special-education students, students learning English and low-income students. Unexcused absences and high school graduation rates also factor into the ratings.

Schools and districts on the list are required to notify parents of their status at the start of the school year. If a school fails to meet just one of the 37 categories, it is deemed to be failing.

School officials, from the state superintendent down to building principals and teachers, claim that the failing label does not mean the schools aren't making progress.

"There is no question that every single one of our schools has room for improvement," said Terry Bergeson, state superintendent of public instruction in a news release. "However, this year the fatal flaws of No Child Left Behind have become abundantly clear. The law has gone too far.

"Many of the schools and districts on this year's improvement list have met tough challenges and have made strong improvements. That work goes unrecognized under No Child Left Behind."

Bergeson urged people to look beyond the label before deciding if a school is failing.

The federal law says all students in every school in the nation must be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

Each year the bar is raised a little higher, as states are required to work toward the 2014 goal. State education officials warned last year that in 2008 the goals would make a bigger leap than usual. They expected the list of schools missing the mark to be longer.

Last year, the "needs improvement" list included 281 Washington schools and 30 of the state's 296 districts, a slight increase over the 2006 list.

This year, the list of schools needing improvement more than doubled to 628 schools, and the list of districts followed a similar trend with 57.

Joining Grandview's Compass High in getting off the "needs improvement" list were: McKinley Elementary in Tacoma, Visions (Seamar Youth Center) in Bellingham and Scriber Lake High School in Edmonds.

Kevin Chase, superintendent of Grandview schools, said much of the success at Compass, a 95-student alternative high school, came with a change in the school's culture.

In the recent past, students who were not successful in Grandview's mainstream classrooms were sent to the alternative school and were given packets of work to complete with little to no teaching involved.

Chase said about four or five years ago, the school did away with the packet approach and began teaching normal courses and helping students prepare for the WASL with a focus on reading and math.

It also started an Associated Student Body at the school to give students leadership opportunities and even started offering vocational classes.

"We're doing the things that it takes to make kids successful," Chase said. "(The staff) has really worked hard."

While he points to the interventions for the success, he also said that such efforts may have had more of an impact because of the school's relatively small student population.

"It's easier to do when working with 95 instead of 900 kids," he said.

James Joyce III can be reached at 577-7675 or [email protected]

Local schools on Step 5 status:

Most of these schools failed to meet standards under the reading and mathematics categories.

Granger School District

Granger Middle School

Mabton School District

Artz Fox Elementary

Mabton Sr. High School

Mt. Adams School District

Mt. Adams Middle School*

White Swan High School

Sunnyside School District

Sunnyside High School

Toppenish School District

Toppenish Middle School*

Toppenish High School*

Wahluke School District

Morris Schott Middle School*

Saddle Mountain Intermediate*

Wapato School District

Wapato Middle School*

Yakima School District

Adams Elementary School*

Barge-Lincoln Elementary School*

Davis High School*

Eisenhower High School

Franklin Middle School

Lewis & Clark Middle School*

Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary

Stanton Alternative School

In Step 5, the school is required to institute a restructuring plan. The school must also provide documentation that at least one of the following actions has been taken:

9 Replace school staff members, which may include the school principal, who are relevant to the school's inability to meet standards.

- Enter into a contract with an entity with a demonstrated record of effectiveness to operate the school.

- Implement other restructuring activities.

* These schools were also in Step 5 last year.

Annual progress report part of No Child Left Behind law

James Joyce III

Yakima Herald-Republic

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