Making the grade: Federal Way schools want off the ‘improvement’ list

The Federal Way School District is not going to take failure lying down.

As required by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, a new district committee will formulate a plan to pass the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) and thus make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). AYP measures proficiency in math and reading as mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

“We will be discussing teaching and learning needs,” said Adelaide Elementary principal Jason Smith, the committee’s facilitator. “Especially with those kids not achieving at the levels required by No Child Left Behind.”

Why it’s needed

If any school fails to make AYP two years running, the federal government classifies the school a “needs improvement.”

That school faces sanctions in the form of lost funding if it is a Title 1 federally funded school. This year statewide, 628 schools and 57 districts are listed under “needs improvement,” including Federal Way. None of Federal Way’s Title 1 funded schools fall in that category, thus avoiding sanctions.

The state can expect more schools to be added to the “needs improvement” list next year as 212 out of the 296 districts in the state did not meet AYP this year.

AYP is a result of the No Child Left Behind Act — itself a byproduct of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which was passed in 1965. Nationwide, schools and districts are required to be 100 percent proficient by 2014.

For districts to be listed under “needs improvement,” they must fail to meet AYP for two consecutive years in the same subject areas.

Part of the reason why so many schools have problems reaching the mark is that AYP counts every student — including special education and English as a second language students. Any student who has been in the country for more than 13 months or has a learning disability must take the same test as mainstream students.

For the 2007-2008 school year, none of the district’s secondary schools, except for the Federal Way Public Academy, made AYP. About half of the district’s elementary schools made AYP. Many schools throughout the state and in Federal Way did not meet AYP in just a few of the categories.

Schools are measured in 37 “cells,” or categories, which include reading, writing, math, science and participation. Categories are also broken up into special education, low income and ethnic groups. To pass AYP, a school must pass all of the cells. If there are not at least 30 students in that category, the cell is not counted. Previously, the bar had been set at 40 students until legislators changed that law in July. A district has to pass 111 cells overall to meet AYP.

The nearby school districts of Renton, Tacoma, Fife, Auburn, Highline, Seattle and Kent are also listed under “needs improvement” status.

Terry Bergeson, Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction, said in a press release that the federal AYP results fail to recognize areas where schools have made tremendous improvement and instead focus too much on where schools underperformed.

The plan

The Federal Way School District committee consists of two parents, three teachers, several district administration members and principals from elementary, middle and high schools.

OSPI has given the school district $20,000 to use on the committee; the funds can only be used this year.

The committee will target “every student to make sure they are getting the academic support they need,” Smith said.

Some of the funding will be used to “provide professional development for the committee to see if there is something out there that we are missing,” Smith said. The remaining funding will be used for mailings to parents, meeting materials and space.

The group is scheduled to meet once a month for daylong sessions. They will present a plan to the Federal Way School Board in April, and the board will vote on the plan in May. This is earlier than the state deadline of June.

Smith stressed that even though the deadline is in June, the committee’s work will not be done.

“They’re prepared to make sure it’s always working,” Smith said. “There are no endpoints.”

The committee’s plan will consist of a few simple concepts, Smith said, making it easier to implement. Other districts’ plans have been upwards of 50 pages, Smith said. The plan will also include ways to improve parent involvement.

“We want to have them be informed stakeholders,” Smith said.

Contact writer:

The areas where the Federal Way School District needs to improve, according to the OSPI’s official report from Aug. 28:

Elementary schools: Hispanic reading, Hispanic math, black math, limited English reading, special education reading, special education math, low-income reading and low-income math.

Middle schools: All math, black math, Hispanic reading, Hispanic math, limited English reading, limited English math, special education reading, special education math, low-income reading and low-income math.

High schools: All math and low-income math.

To make comments or suggestions for the committee, e-mail Jason Smith at or call (253) 945-2300.

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