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State index ranks most Federal Way schools as 'fair'

A majority of schools in Federal Way were labeled “fair” by a state Board of Education index that keeps track of how well individual schools do on state tests.

However, educators behind the index say the data is much deeper than a one-word descriptor.

Data for the 2009-10 state Achievement Index was released in February; it labeled 20 Federal Way schools as “fair,” two as “struggling,” 11 as “good,” one as “very good” and one as “exemplary.”

For parents and concerned citizens, the authors of the Achievement Index encourage looking at all the scores of an individual school, which contribute to the overall rating.

“Looking at one score is not necessarily indicative of a school’s performance,” said state board spokesman Aaron Wyatt. “This is a tool to use to open up conversations.”

For example, Adelaide Elementary School was rated “fair” overall for its 2010 state test scores. But the index also shows that Adelaide scored “exemplary” in math test scores compared to similar schools. The school also scored “very good” for the achievement of low-income students on reading tests.

Dave Davis, the Federal Way School District’s director of accountability, said that the context of each school needs to be taken into account.

There are other factors when looking at overall test date, like the district’s high mobility rate — the number of students that switch schools in a given school year — and a high population of non-native English speakers.

Plus, he said, state tests only take a snapshot of one group of students at one point in time. There’s no publicly-available tool that shows how well a particular group of students does on state tests each year.

“I just don’t get too hung up on these labels because there’s so much more going on in a building,” he said.

How it measures

The Achievement Index works by compiling data from standardized state tests, the High School Proficiency Exam and the Measurement of Student Progress, which is given to third- through eighth-graders.

The index uses test results from four subjects: math, writing, reading and science. The index displays scores in those subjects (plus graduation rates for high schools) from four groups: achievement of low-income students, of non-low-income students, achievement versus peer schools and improvement from the previous year. Each criteria is assigned a score.

Then, the scores from each criteria are averaged, which produces a school’s ranking, like “good” or “fair.”

The data is collected by the state Office of Superintendent for Public Instruction, and the index is compiled by the state Board of Education.

One important piece of the data is the achievement versus peers. Schools are compared based on similar demographics. That way, a predominantly low-income school is not compared to one of high income.

Pete Bylsma, who helped create the Achievement Index, said that a school’s ranking compared to its peers can be a bright spot, even if the school is only ranked as “fair.”

“Your scores might not be up to state level,” he said, “but compared to your peers, if you’re really performing above expectations, you could get an (exemplary ranking).”

Some schools have — overall — gone down in ranking. But schools can still fare well in other categories.

Federal Way High School went from “very good” to “fair” in the test years spanning 2008 to 2010 (tests are taken in the spring of a given school’s year). But in the category where Federal Way is compared to peers, it was ranked “good” or “very good” on state tests in 2009-10. Federal Way also got an “exemplary” for its graduation rate.

Lakeland Elementary School went from “very good” to “struggling” over the same time period.

Though Lakeland’s overall ranking has gone down, the school gets high marks compared to its peers. Lakeland got “good” rankings compared to its peers in reading and math in 2009-10. But it was ranked “struggling”  in writing and science.

The Federal Way Public Academy, usually ranked as one of the top-performing schools in the state, has been consistently good, vacillating between “very good” and “exemplary” in test years 2008 through 2010.

Some schools have increased their ranking over the years. Twin Lakes Elementary has gone from “good” to “very good” over three testing years. But in 2009-10, its low-income students were “struggling” in science. Valhalla Elementary School has gone from “fair” to “good,” but its low-income students are “struggling” in science.

The Achievement Index is used to dole out the Washington Achievement Awards. Several Federal Way schools received those awards last month, including Mark Twain Elementary for narrowing its achievement gap, the Federal Way Public Academy for overall excellence and Mirror Lake Elementary for overall excellence, in a category for schools with high populations of gifted students.

A ‘snapshot’

For anyone looking to use the Achievement Index as a gauge, Davis encourages actually looking at a school. Don’t just see the “fair” ranking and move on.

“I always encourage parents to visit the culture of the school, understand what they’re trying to do at the school,” Davis said. “You’ll get a lot more out of that than raw data.”

He also pointed out that the index differs from federal standards under No Child Left Behind, called AYP — adequate yearly progress. Each school must make AYP each year, which increases year over year the number of students who must be proficient on tests. Some Federal Way schools rated low on the index but made AYP. “Struggling” Lakeland made AYP last year, but “good” Sacajawea Middle School did not.

Bylsma listed a number of ways that the index differs from AYP. The index accounts for improvement, disproportionate schools are not compared to each other and it measures different student groups, among other differences.

“We try not to get too bogged down in the stats, other than that they’re the start of the conversation,” Davis said. “It’s a starting point, not the end game.”

To use the Achievement Index to look up your local school, go to www.sbe.wa.gov. On the left side of the page, under the heading “Get the Latest,” is an option to download the 2009-10 Achievement Index search tool. It comes in Microsoft Excel format and contains instructions on how to research schools.

 

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