Superintendent focuses on Federal Way school district’s strengths, shortcomings

FWPS unveils highest graduation rates of all time; Standards-Based Assessment scores trail neighboring districts.

To understand Federal Way Public Schools data, one must first understand who the district is, said Superintendent Dr. Tammy Campbell at Tuesday night’s State of Education event.

A few hundred scholars, parents, families and FWPS staff attended the Oct. 22 event, which featured a fair-like showcase of schools and academic programs throughout the district before crowds gathered in the Federal Way High School theatre to hear the current state of education.

“Unlike Microsoft or Boeing or Nordstrom, we’re not creating merchandise or widgets where you can have a formula to say ‘This one thing will work,’” Campbell said. “Our products are students. They’re human beings who learn at different rates, in different ways, with different needs.”

This year is Federal Way Public Schools’ 90th anniversary and Campbell’s fifth year serving as superintendent. The FWPS Board of Education recently approved Campbell’s contract at a public meeting on Oct. 8 to extend her contract another year until 2023.

FWPS is home to 37 schools and approximately 23,000 students speaking more than 120 languages. This district has been ranked the most diverse in Washington state and the fifth most diverse district in the nation, the Mirror previously reported.

Campbell’s presentation — which she referred to as a “conversation” — focuses on the district’s strengths and shortcomings, outlining their goals to improve performance outcomes.

Of the total student population, 6,013 speak languages other than English at home.

Spanish is the most common language other than English with 4,136 students speaking Spanish at home, rivaled to the 363 students who speak Russian at home.

“We believe that is our strength,” Campbell said of the multicultural diversity.

The district has 5,116 students who are actively learning English and 1,096 students who learned English within the last two years. Of these numbers, 4,245 are taking the SBA, which is only offered in English. In 2019, 6% of FWPS active ELL students who took the SBA passed the state assessment and this is folded into the district’s SBA results.

Combining the above numbers translates to nearly one in every two scholars receiving ELL services, Campbell said.

Upon becoming proficient in English, the district has found 61% of ELL students are passing the SBA, compared to the 55% of native-English speaking students.

“They (ELL students) are outpacing the scholars who only speak English,” Campbell said. “The problem is: the [state] test is testing them right now and it takes time. Being bilingual is a world-class skill.”

This background context is important when considering the district’s performance scores and is often left out of data, Campbell said.

In academics, Federal Way hits below the average of every other district in the road map region for the English Language Arts (ELA) Standards-Based Assessment (SBA) scores, but does show self-improvement from 2018 to 2019 in the ELA assessments growing from 46% to 47%. The 1% increase is equivalent to more than 100 students in the district, Campbell explained.

The road map region spans seven King County school districts including Auburn, Federal Way, Highline, Kent, Renton, South Seattle, and Tukwila school districts.

In the math SBA, Federal Way remains below the average of surrounding districts with 35% of students passing the assessment in 2018 down to 33% in 2019. By the district’s same 1% margin definition, this shows a more than 200-student decrease in performance in the math SBA.

Road map regions scored 54% in 2018 and 52% in 2019 for the ELA SBA, and decreased from 44% in 2018 and 43% in 2019 for the math SBA.

“If you were to look at us and all of the other districts, all of us can do better,” Campbell said. “It’s not like there are districts that are knocking it out of the ballpark.”

Understanding the vast amount of ELL students is an important piece to remember as the district’s data is unpacked, Campbell reminded the crowd.

“Often people will take one or two pieces of data to tell our story,” Campbell said, quoting: “…The things in our schools that truly count cannot be counted.”

Across all grade levels, the goals for this year include attaining 80% of third graders and eighth graders meeting or exceeding the grade level standard in English Language Arts (ELA); Another goal is to have 100% of scholars participating in at least 90% of their classroom instructional time measured by attendance, Campbell said.

Another pride point Campbell acknowledged was the 21,347 students who had no exclusionary discipline into the 2018-2019 school year. Exclusionary discipline is defined by the district as suspensions or expulsions, meaning “they’re in school and we’re working with them on their behaviors,” Campbell said.

The district is pressing on early learning opportunities to support goal one, the whole child.

District data shows 51% of kindergarteners who attended Federal Way’s Early Childhood Education Assistance Program (ECEAP) and 58% of kindergarteners who attended Federal Way’s Headstart program were more prepared than their peers upon the first day of elementary school.

The district is advocating for more early learning and intervention opportunities to better prepare students for kindergarten, Campbell noted.

“We are strengthening our personalized pathways across the district,” Campbell said. The pathways include arts and communication, business and marketing, engineering, manufacturing and technology, health sciences, and human services. Pathway courses are offered at all four high schools and some courses are offered at the middle school level.

FWPS is leading King County in Career and Technical Education (CTE) program participation, with 62% of students from the 2018 graduating class taking two or more classes. The CTE completion statistics spiked from 20% in 2014 to 42% in 2015.

While the CTE program was in place prior to 2015, graduation requirements changed for students entering high school in 2015, meaning the freshmen cohort who would graduate in 2019.

2015 the first year the requirement of three personalized pathway courses were included in Washington state graduation requirements, and is likely to have contributed to the spike, the district stated.

Overall for CTE in 2018-2019, FWPS had 6,994 students completing one course, and 4,887 completing two or more courses.

The district said they will continue to increase the rigor of the CTE pathways, as well as increase access to industry-recognized credits and college credits in all five of the pathways.

“All of this information, none of this Great Schools [.org] used to rate us,” Campbell said. “They don’t [rate] any of these things, but these are the kinds of metrics that tell you a lot about the overall health of a school.”

In an effort to provide academic equity, Federal Way Public Schools was the first district in Washington state to pay for the SAT and PSAT tests, Campbell shared. In 2019, the district invested $167,499 to provide SAT tests for 3,790 scholars and $54,220 for 5,900 students to take the PSAT test.

Campbell also unveiled the district’s latest graduation rate of 87% — the highest ever for FWPS — up from 86.2% in 2018. At 86% graduate rates, Federal Way holds the highest graduation rates compared to Kent, South Seattle, Highline, Tukwila, Auburn, and Renton school districts.

The preliminary graduation rate of 87% represents 1,403 students.

The trend has steadily increased over time, Campbell said, adding it’s an incremental increase “going in the right trajectory.” FWPS now has a goal to have 95% of seniors graduating on time.

“We’re not far away from reaching that goal.”

Along with implementing a new safety technology monitoring tool and comprehensive surveys to help support student social-emotional health, the district is also making an effort in academics.

In math, the district will be piloting a new math program, Teach to One, funded by the Bezos Family Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, at Sacajawea Middle School for seventh graders and at Woodmont K-8 for sixth through eighth graders. Teach to One will focus on providing targeted and differentiated online instruction based on students’ individual academic needs with the goal of closing gaps in individual students’ math skills to accelerate academic growth. FWPS is also in the process of adopting a new math curriculum for the entire district.

“We have been working hard,” Campbell said, before receiving a standing ovation at the conclusion of her presentation. “Results happen over time — not overnight.”

Federal Way Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Tammy Campbell (second from right) shares a moment with scholars at the State of the Education event on Tuesday at Federal Way High School. Photo courtesy of Federal Way Public Schools

Federal Way Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Tammy Campbell (second from right) shares a moment with scholars at the State of the Education event on Tuesday at Federal Way High School. Photo courtesy of Federal Way Public Schools