Tacoma high school proves it doesn’t belong on state’s underperforming list

Tacoma’s Lincoln High School is off the list of the state’s lowest-performing schools, thanks to new information submitted recently by Tacoma Public Schools to state education officials.

Lincoln had teetered at the edge of the state’s latest Priority Schools list, which was released last month.

The eastside high school initially was put on the list based on reported graduation rates that had placed the school’s three-year average at 59.8 percent, just a whisper below the cutoff of 60 percent. (The state changed the measurement this year; it had used a five-year graduation rate to calculate the average for the graduating classes of 2011, 2012 and 2013.)

But when Lincoln Principal Pat Erwin reviewed data files for his school, he saw some names he recognized. They were students he remembered graduating, which means the state had erroneously recorded them as dropouts.

That sent Erwin and his staff digging for more information.

In all, they found 43 names over the three years that should not have been on the dropout list. Of those, 13 had graduated from Lincoln but were mistakenly tagged as not doing so. Another 30 were found to have transferred to another high school after leaving Lincoln.

Gil Mendoza, assistant superintendent for the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, said OSPI required proof that the 13 students had graduated. That evidence included transcripts, credits earned and other information.

“We went through and looked at the data files,” Mendoza said. “They had the information, the proof that these kids did graduate. We asked for multiple components.”

The new numbers were enough to put Lincoln over the threshold, giving it a new three-year average of 65 percent.

The state’s data system, which assigns each student a unique identifier number, allowed Lincoln to find many of its purported dropouts at other schools around the state. Some were located using online tools such as Facebook. If the student claimed a new out-of-state high school on Facebook, Lincoln staff contacted that school and verified the student’s enrollment.

Erwin said some of the coding errors could have occurred at Lincoln or at the district level.

In any case, he’s relieved that his school is no longer on the state list of Priority Schools. He said its removal will help his staff concentrate over the summer on launching a new Lincoln High School that will take the successful Lincoln Center school-within-a-school experiment schoolwide.

This fall, all Lincoln students will encounter a longer school day, more academic help during the day, an emphasis on rigorous courses and enrichment activities.

Tacoma has more underperforming schools than any other district in the state, according to the annual Priority and Focus School list released by the state in early May.

While some schools are identified using graduation rates, others end up on the list based on three-year averages of reading and math scores from state tests.

A total of 284 Washington schools were labeled underperforming by some measure. Sixteen are in Tacoma. Lincoln was the only Tacoma high school that had been on the list.

The designations were developed as part of Washington state's waiver from some requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law. Schools on the state lists will receive additional funding and support services.