West Valley School District is fighting its reputation for having the worst graduation rates in Washington.
The district is asking state school Superintendent Terry Bergeson to separate West Valley High School’s academic results from its two alternative high schools. The latter two schools, Contract Based Education and Spokane Valley High School, cater to students who opt out of the traditional school systems in the area to earn a diploma. The vast majority of those students live outside the West Valley School District.
The school district asked Bergeson last month to separate the schools’ performances on standardized test scores and graduation rates. Both figures are used to measure overall district achievement. There seems to be support for the change in Olympia.
West Valley’s poor ratings last year were caused by the dropout rates at the two alternative high schools. The ratings did not reflect the work of students at West Valley High School, which boasts an 88 percent on-time graduation rate.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, states must produce annual report cards to inform parents and communities about progress. Districtwide totals are calculated using all the scores from schools within a district.
As a result, the low test scores and high dropout rates from the two alternative schools have pushed West Valley numbers to all-time lows.
Last year the state released a report showing that 21.6 percent of West Valley District students graduated on time. This came only weeks after testing data showed that only 28 percent of sophomores passed the math section of the Washington Assessment of Student learning, the high-stakes test now required for graduation.
Those statistics are not an accurate reflection of student success in West Valley, district officials argued.
West Valley High School, the district’s traditional high school with 800 students in grades 9 through 12, consistently scores higher than the state average on state standardized tests. The on-time graduation rate, or the percentage of students who graduate within four years, is also higher than the state average.
“We don’t want all these (alternative) kids on the street not having any hope of graduation … but we need statistics that reflect what we are really doing,” West Valley Superintendent Polly Crowley said.
The district told the state it should not be punished for trying to help those students from other districts that have nowhere else to go. About 15 percent of the students at CBE and 28 percent at SVHS are from the West Valley attendance boundaries, Crowley said.
According to state data, CBE had about 1,400 students on the books who should have graduated in four years. From that data the state came up with a graduation rate of 2 percent.
As many as 1,400 kids may have signed up to attend CBE, but they don’t file proper paperwork when they leave and continue to show up in the state system as a dropout. The actual enrollment of the entire school is about 400 this year.
“They may leave and come back in the same year,” said Gene Sementi, West Valley assistant superintendent. “We’ve got kids that have counted against us two, three or four times.”
After looking at the data, state officials agreed that separate reporting is needed in this case and can be used as a precedent for other school districts with similar alternative programs.
The Tumwater (Wash.) School District asked for a similar variance, which allows a school attached to a state juvenile detention center there to be considered differently when reporting, because so many children come to the center from out of state.
“We cannot drop the kids from the accountability,” said Mary Alice Heuschel, deputy superintendent of learning and teaching for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. “I’m attempting to come up with a way for identifying the alternative school data in a more fair way that doesn’t keep districts from taking in (alternative) kids; we don’t want to penalize them for doing that.”