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Income greatest indicator of student performance

A child’s performance in school is determined more by family income than any single other factor.

According to a report issued by the Federal Way school district’s Equity and Achievement Task Force, poverty, mobility, cultural barriers and lack of parental involvement all contribute to poor student performance.

The task force presented its findings to the Federal Way School Board late last month and offered recommendations to improve student performance.

While poverty is the greatest factor contributing to underachievement in the Federal Way school district, Office of Equity and Achievement Director Alma Dansby said district staff want to be careful not to excuse poor performance in low-income children just because it’s a problem that falls outside the district’s control.

She said there are schools in other parts of the country where poor children perform well. “Even though poverty is a great indicator, it’s not something that can’t be overcome,” she said.

Superintendent Tom Murphy created the task force in May following the release of a disconcerting study that showed African American, Native American and Latino students were scoring lower in math and reading than other students.

Task force members spent the summer and fall researching why some students perform well and others fall behind.During their research, task force members found a lack of cultural awareness — though not necessarily discrimination — in the district, a scarcity of minority teachers and administrators to act as role models, difficulty of access for some parents because of work schedules or language barriers and a lack of cultural diversity in school curricula.

To remedy those, the task force made recommendations to the school board, including:

• Comprehensive staff development in areas of cultural awareness, English as a Second Language and discipline;

• Improved discipline methods that are fair within and across all schools in the district;

• Challenging curricula for all students; and

• Better customer service for parents.

While the long-term goal of equity achievement is still a long way off, Dansby said district personnel are getting started now on the smaller, easier steps.

Teachers will take classes this spring to boost their cultural education and awareness, she said.

Because parental and community involvement is an important factor in student achievement, the district is tossing around the idea of creating a parent resource center.

Parents could take classes to learn how to help their children with their schoolwork or how to direct their children’s reading.

“Many parents with children struggling in school struggled in school themselves,” Dansby said. The resource center would provide an opportunity for parents to sit down with someone from the district to learn how the system works and how to help their children succeed.

Because the low performance problem is so complex — and has been for so long — Dansby said the district will begin with more easily obtained short-term goals. The task force is set to make another report to the school board in late March.

“We’re not going to solve it overnight,” she said. “You want to plan carefully and look at the best information available.”

Still, Dansby said district staff are tackling the problem enthusiastically. “We’re really excited about the possibilities,” she said. “It takes some time, but, in the meantime, we’re taking little steps before we take the big steps.”

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