September 2, 2004 in City

Grant Elementary gets WASL redemption

By The Spokesman-Review
Kathryn Stevens photo

Lauren Schneringer, 23, will student-teach at Grant Elementary School. The school in the East Central neighborhood made Adequate Yearly Progress on the WASL after failing to do so last year.
(Full-size photo)

The numbers paint a bleak picture of East Central’s Grant Elementary School.

But figures can also lift a place like Grant higher than anyone dared hope as Wednesday’s test score release proved.

On any given day, more than 80 percent of Grant students qualify for a free or reduced-price meal, a telling sign of a low-income neighborhood. And about 10 percent of Grant students work to learn English as a second language. The school has a full-time Russian translator on staff.

Last year at this time, teachers like Dianna Erickson were being asked why their school was the only Spokane Public Schools elementary to fall on a “watch list.”

Washington state schools are required to pass a certain percentage of students on the Washington Assessment for Student Learning test, which is given each spring. Last year, Grant joined a list of schools that did not pass enough students on math, reading and writing to make “Adequate Yearly Progress.”

The lists of schools that didn’t meet AYP standards included Shaw, Salk, Chase and Glover middle schools. North Central and Rogers High School also made it on the list last year.

In the Mead School District, Northwood Middle School also fell short of state standards.

The schools’ redemption or damnation would come with the next round of WASL scores, which were released Wednesday.

Shaw, Salk and Chase all passed, as did Rogers High School.

North Central High School, Sacajawea and Glover Middle School failed to make AYP, according to the new figures. For the second year, Northwood did not meet standards. All four schools were tripped up by special education scores, a weakness at most schools. When a school fails to pass even in one subgroup, the whole school misses AYP.

As a school receiving Title 1 federal funding, Grant could have looked like another poor school destined for further troubles.

That didn’t happen.

Not only did Grant rise up and meet those standards, it shattered them.

The fourth-grade students who took the WASL test last spring nearly doubled their passing rates on reading from 39 percent to 72 percent. Math and reading leaped up 20 percent points.

On Wednesday, Erickson worked on settling in to her second-floor classroom of fourth-graders. Her school had been highlighted by the state superintendent as an example of “excellent progress.”

Erickson and a team of assistant principals, teaching coaches and every available body would meet regularly to study that year’s 78 fourth-grade students. The team met weekly to talk about what worked and what didn’t in teaching the materials.

Erickson would often show her students samples of test questions supplied by the state. Students liked seeing examples of perfect scores from other students along with not-so-perfect answers. The classroom buzzed with side conversations about what was wrong with the student-written sample, Erickson said.

“They loved it. It was enlightening for them,” Erickson said

For every school that has a success, there’s another school coping with a setback.

Frustrated about his school’s results, North Central High School’s vice principal Randy Russell called the district office Wednesday to get a more complete picture.

Russell’s frustration turned to pride when he learned that his special education students passed the reading portion of the test, and failed only the math portion.

The special education staff has worked very hard in the last three years to help the students improve their language skills, he said.

“Some of these students struggle to write a sentence,” Russell said. A number of learning disabilities in various combinations challenge these students, he said. “Now we’re expecting them to write five paragraphs.”

But they did it in writing. That much they passed.

Three years ago, special education students went to classes isolated from the general student population. Now the expectations are higher. They are placed in freshman level classes. At the end of the day, they have one class where they receive more individual attention to help them process the daily material.

“That’s a huge shift,” Russell said. “We’re intentionally trying some new things.”

Hopefully, redemption is only one year away.

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