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Federal Way school leaders should take responsibility | Letters
Every year the state compares schools based on an Index that takes into account student proficiency in reading, writing, math and science as well as graduation rates and student improvement in order to encourage school officials to better meet the needs of their students.
Last month, Washington Policy Center reported the findings of the State Board of Education’s annual Achievement Index that revealed many of the failings of the Federal Way School District.
Even before the results of the survey went public, many principals, superintendents and school board members across the state were already making excuses for their underperforming schools. Rather than take responsibility, Federal Way school leaders followed suit, immediately criticizing the Index for showing they failed.
Not surprisingly, Federal Way Public Schools Director of Assessment Dave Davis is skeptical of the Index, possibly because his schools did not score well, but the numbers speak for themselves.
On average, only 71 percent of Federal Way students meet the state’s basic reading requirement. Only 69 percent meet the state’s writing requirement; only 60 percent meet the state’s math requirement; and only 55 percent of its students are proficient in science.
Out of 38 schools in Federal Way, all but three received a grade of C or lower, according to state figures. Clearly, the Federal Way School District is not meeting its paramount duty, as the state constitution says, to provide a quality public education for every child.
Mr. Davis criticizes the Index for being simplistic, arguing that letter grades are an inappropriate measure of school performance. Yet school officials themselves hand out letter grades every day of the academic year. Perhaps students should make the same argument and receive a similar letter grade exemption for their work.
Despite what Mr. Davis calls an oversimplification, if schools are not doing an adequate job of teaching students, then parents have a right to know just how poorly local schools are performing.
Next, Mr. Davis criticizes the Index for using “old” data from 2011-2012, apparently saying the numbers are of little to no analytical value because of their age. This is an interesting argument for the primary reason that when the state Index was published, there was no newer data available. The Achievement Index is released annually, using the latest numbers the state has received from school officials.
Finally, Mr. Davis criticizes the Index for judging success differently than the school board judges it. What the Federal Way School Board really cares about, he says, are graduation rates and student achievement. That’s a good point, and the state Achievement Index includes precisely those variables. It accounts for the percentage of students who meet state reading, writing, math and science proficiency requirements as well as the percentage of high school students who graduate.
The state Achievement Index was created by the Legislature to serve as a tool so local officials and parents could know how well our public schools are educating students. To attack the state Index instead of tackling the school district’s underlying problems is a disservice to students and their families, who in many cases are being deprived of the high quality public education they have been promised.
State and local officials may disagree about how to rank schools, but in the meantime, most families have no choice in the matter at all. While officials debate whether or not the state Index is flawed, parents should be allowed to decide for themselves.
Letting families choose their child’s school would give parents a voice in the system, and allow them to pick the school that will provide their children with the best education possible.
Austin Cooper, Washington Policy Center Research Assistant, Master of Public Policy Candidate