School districts fall short against federal learning curve

Although 19 elementary schools made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), and math scores improved for African American students, it still wasn't enough for the Federal Way School District.

According to recently released WASL score results, the school district once again failed to make the grade.

Each year, students must take a state test, as ordered in the No Child Left Behind Act. In Washington state, this test is the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL).

However, this is the last year the WASL will be used as the state assessment. State Superintendent Randy Dorn has already made the move toward a new test. Beginning this coming school year, the test will change to the Measurements of Student Progress for grades 3-8, and the High School Proficiency Exam for high school students.

Not much information has been released yet about how this test will differ from the WASL. It is uncertain how the new test will affect scores in Federal Way.

Federal Way was at or above the state averages in all grades for reading and math scores. However, these scores were already rather low and meant the district as a whole did not make Adequate Yearly Progress.

It is a state requirement that students pass the WASL to graduate high school. Many students must take the test over again before graduating.

Districtwide, 49.3 percent of 10th-graders passed the math WASL. This is slightly higher than the state average of 45.2 percent. However, it does mean that more than half the district's 10th-graders will be taking the WASL again. Already, 134 students retook at least part of the test in August, which was the first opportunity. The district expects to see that number improve.

According to No Child Left Behind, by 2014, schools and districts nationwide must be at 100 percent to make AYP — meeting standards in all of the categories.

In regards to Washington state's overall AYP goals for this year, grades 3-5 were expected to get at least a 76.1 percent in reading and a 64.9 percent in math. Grades 6-8 were expected to get a 65.1 percent in reading and a 58.7 percent in math. Grade 10 was supposed to get a 74.3 percent in reading and a 62.4 percent in math.

"I continue to be humbled by the work being performed by the adults in our schools on behalf of all children," FWSD Superintendent Tom Murphy said in a statement. "Our students continue to out-perform, across the board, our closest neighbors, the state averages, and many students in districts with much less poverty and challenge...We celebrate our successes and mourn our failures, reaffirming our relentless determination to find the keys to unlock success for each child. We won't rest until we do."

Making the grade

If any school fails to make AYP two years running in the same subject area, the federal government classifies the school as “needs improvement.”

That school faces sanctions in the form of lost funding if it is a Title 1 federally funded school.

The only Title 1 schools in Federal Way are elementary schools, but 19 of the 23 elementary schools this year made AYP. Lake Grove, Sunnycrest, Wildwood and Enterprise did not make AYP this year. None of the schools are being designated as "needs improvement."

For the middle schools, only Illahee and Federal Way Public Academy made AYP this year. Illahee is the first comprehensive middle school in the district to make AYP.

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.

A district has to pass 111 cells overall to meet AYP.

This year, the district passed in 72 cells, but did not pass in 18. The remaining cells did not have large enough group to be counted.

This put them at a pass rate of 80 percent.

To compare: Bellevue, which has a much smaller minority population and free and reduced lunch population, passed in 62 cells. For many of its cells, the Bellevue district did not have enough in a group to count, so it passed in 86 percent of cells.

This year, 1,285 schools did not make AYP, and of those, 1,073 schools are taking steps to improve. Statewide, 209 districts did not make AYP and 103 are in step two of "in improvement."

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.

Last year, when Federal Way School District did not make AYP, the law stated the district must create a plan on how to make AYP. This year, since the district did not make AYP again, it must implement that plan.

Most districts in the area are in some form of improvement. Within the next few years, officials including Dorn believe almost all schools will be in improvement.

2008-09 WASL Federal Way results

3rd grade: 72.6 percent (reading); 70.2 percent (math)

4th grade: 73.9 percent (reading); 55.8 percent (math); 54.4 percent (writing)

5th grade: 79.1 percent (reading); 71.2 percent (math); 36.0 percent (science)

6th grade: 72.5 percent (reading); 50.5 percent (math)

7th grade: 60.4 percent (reading); 51.0 percent (math); 69.0 percent (writing)

8th grade: 70.6 percent (reading); 54.7 percent (math); 47.5 percent (science)

10th grade: 88.2 percent (reading); 49.3 percent (math); 91.0 percent (writing); 38.7 percent (science)

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