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Washington implementing new system for judging schools

UPDATED: Thu., April 19, 2018, 11:59 a.m.

Parents have a new way to examine how schools are doing in Washington state.

State Superintendent Chris Reykdal said the new system will help administrators, teachers and parents identify deficiencies in all schools, including those that may get among the best scores.

In February, federal education authorities signed off on the state’s changes as part of transitioning from No Child Left Behind to the new guidelines under Every Student Succeeds Act.

Reykdal recently barnstormed the state to tout the coming changes, which soon will allow parents to look up every test score at their children’s school and compare them to other schools in the district and the state.

“Our goal here was to create a very different tool that allowed parents and the community and the media and everyone else to really dive into an individual school, really look at the data on an open public website and go beyond a single score for a school,” he said.

That data became available in a searchable form Friday, said Nathan Olson, spokesman for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Under the new program, called Washington School Improvement Framework, the formula for which schools get federal education dollars will continue to be based mostly on the percentage of students who receive free and reduced lunches, which is an indication of poverty.

State schools officials also will continue to direct some federal money to those schools with scores from standardized testing in math, science or English language arts in the lowest 5 percent.

While the new system will continue to compile test scores, it will expand the data to show how students tested for three consecutive years.

That’s a major shift from the old system, which reflected only how a student tested on a single day, said Lorna Spear, the director of early learning for Spokane Public Schools.

“It does matter what your proficiency score is on that day, but this idea of growth also matters,” said Spear, referring to three years of testing data. “That’s big for our schools because you can see you are making progress. If you can see they are growing, ‘What did we do to cause that growth?’ And, ‘How do we do more of that?’ ”

In addition to tracking academic progress, the new system also added attendance, ninth-graders on track to graduation and advanced-course-taking opportunities as new categories that make up a school’s overall score.

The major portion of a school’s ranking will continue to come from graduation rates and growth based on standardized tests for English language arts, math and science.

But for the first time, the new program breaks down 10 groups of students, such as those with disabilities, Native Americans or students learning English, to give a more detailed look at how all students are doing in classrooms, Reykdal said.

“If you were in Issaquah, if you were Bellevue, or you were in Mercer Island and you were struggling, you never got saw because you got a comprehensive score. The school looked great,” Reykdal said. “We put the school aside and we were focusing on the failing schools. Meanwhile, there were persistent challenges in each of those schools.”

The new information will allow the state to direct resources to help struggling groups of students, even at schools that otherwise scored among the best in the state, he said.

“It’s a system designed to say: We are going to focus on student groups who have been struggling for a long time in this system, as opposed to just masking the students, putting a score on the school and saying we want to focus on the failing schools,” Reykdal said.

Marybeth Smith, Lewis and Clark High School principal, said that while she continues to learn the new system, she supports its concepts.

“A lot can get lost in those big numbers. What’s happening with all my kids?” Smith said. “I don’t know that you would find an administrator who didn’t think that’s a pretty powerful tool.”

Rogers High School Principal Lori Wyborney said she supports many of the changes, especially those that break down the different classes of students who may be struggling.

“No Child Left Behind had flaws, but the one thing it did do … it made school districts look at kids in high poverty and kids of color and say: We have to get them to the same line as the other kids,” Wyborney said. “This forced this profession to do that. I think that’s super, super good.”

Wyborney was featured in a 2017 article in the New York Times about how she improved the graduation rates at a school mostly full of students who are at or below the poverty line.

“I argue that we got from 50 to 70 percent graduation rates just by tracking kids the right way,” she said.

But she’s worried, too, about how the program also now grades schools on attendance.

“Our attendance rate is terrible,” she said. “We have tried, in my eight years here, every possible thing short of paying kids to come to school. We have to push hard on the two categories we are good at just to counter balance attendance.”

Still, Wyborney said, she’s a fan of school officials defining the goals and allowing her to figure out how to reach them.

“I didn’t mind the other one. But I think this is cleaner,” she said. “It really helps us to get where there may be real issues and gives us an opportunity to fix them. I like that a lot.”


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