Tacoma has most schools on state's lists for improvement

Staff writerMay 7, 2014 

Tacoma has more underperforming schools than any other district in the state, according to annual lists released by the state Tuesday.

But Tacoma Public Schools deputy superintendent Josh Garcia said the list is based on three-year averages of state test scores. So even schools showing recent progress in test scores might still land on the low-performance list, due to previous low scores.

“This is not a complete snapshot of achievement,” Garcia said. “The system does not recognize true growth.”

Schools were identified using three-year averages (school years 2010-11 through 2012-13) of reading and math scores from state tests and/or state-calculated graduation rates. A total of 284 schools statewide were labeled as either “priority” or “focus” schools. Seventeen are in Tacoma.

Priority school designation is based on the performance of all students in a school, and includes schools that have scored in the lowest 5 percent on state tests.

Focus schools are identified based on test scores from one or more student subgroups in a school, for example students from a single racial group or students receiving special education. Focus schools include subgroups that have scored in the lowest 10 percent statewide.

The goal is to identify and address achievement gaps between groups, said Kristen Jaudon, spokeswoman for the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

State Superintendent Randy Dorn said that schools on the state lists will receive additional funding and support services. But funding levels for each school have not yet been set, according to Jaudon.

Garcia said each of the Tacoma schools on the state lists has a plan for improvement that has been approved by the state. He said the district has changed leadership in some schools in response to state indicators. And he said other schools on the lists are improving.

He pointed out that just weeks ago, for example, Giaudrone Middle School won a Washington Achievement Award for showing growth in math scores. But it’s on the state priority list. And Lincoln High School, which made that same list based on its graduation rate, actually boosted the rate from 49.6 percent in 2011 to 68.4 percent in 2012.

“Lincoln has made significant gains,” Garcia said. “It’s not being recognized for its efforts.”

Officials in other Pierce County districts with schools on one of the lists had similar responses.

“While we are making improvements, we also recognize there is more work to do,” said Krista Carlson, spokeswoman for the Bethel School District, which had six schools on the focus list – all of them listed due to test scores of special education students.

Steilacoom Superintendent Kathi Weight said she was looking forward to hearing more from the state about how it can help her district boost achievement for special education students. Steilacoom had one school, Pioneer Middle School, on the focus list, due to scores from students with disabilities.

“We have a talented and committed staff at Pioneer Middle School and our team is working hard to consistently improve student learning for every one of our students,” Weight said.

Eatonville Superintendent Krestin Bahr said the district has already formed a plan to help students at Eatonville Elementary School, which is on the state priority list.

“Being named a priority school means just that,” Bahr said. Strategies include hiring a full-time instructional coach, who will help classroom teachers. The school will also take part in a University of Washington math project to improve math instruction.

“I want our parents and community to know that we are addressing this challenge head on, and we need their support and involvement as well,” Bahr said.

Sumner Superintendent Sara Johnson said her district will focus on closing the achievement gap for students whose native language is not English — about 3 to 4 percent of the population at Sumner Middle School. The school was placed on the focus list due to their scores.

“We’re thankful for the additional funding and support services the state will offer,” Johnson said.

The state’s priority and focus designations were developed as part of Washington state’s waiver from some requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The U.S. Department of Education notified Washington on April 24 that its waiver will not be extended into the 2014-15 school year. However, Jaudon said the Department of Education agreed to allow Washington to continue identifying schools for support using the methodology developed under the waiver.

“Although we don’t have the waiver for 2014-15, we will use a blended model that incorporates both of these methodologies,” Dorn said.

Statewide lists

Priority schools: www.k12.wa.us/ESEA/Schools/PrioritySchools2014-15.aspx

Focus schools: www.k12.wa.us/ESEA/Schools/FocusSchools2014-15.aspx

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635

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