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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion

Spokane can be proud of improving schools

Terry Bergeson and Brian Benzel Special to the Spokesman-Review

S tudent achievement is big news across the state this week. Washington Assessment of Student Learning scores generate public attention about teaching and the achievement levels of our students. While overall improvements continue, the news these scores bring is often mixed.

So it’s wonderful to walk into a school like Madison Elementary, where every fourth-grader – that’s 100 percent – met reading benchmarks last spring. In fact, 81.5 percent of all fourth-graders in Spokane met the reading standard. We are rapidly eliminating the longstanding connection between poverty and student achievement. That is quite an accomplishment, since 55 percent of Spokane’s elementary students qualify for free or reduced price lunch.

Expectations are high for all students in the district. Our staffs know that the WASL provides important feedback about both teaching and student learning. Our teachers and others also know that the true goal is to prepare students with the skills and knowledge they need for success in life, and that work is not yet done.

As state superintendent and superintendent of Spokane Public Schools, we are struck by the lessons one can learn by visiting schools in Spokane. Given the strong, systemwide performance in our schools, education leaders across the state look to Spokane Public Schools as a district to emulate.

Why?

Over the past 10 years, within direction set by the state and Spokane’s school board, leadership and teachers set a goal of educating all students, not just some of them. In response to the changing dynamics of the information age and the global economy, our community set high expectations for our students and the adults who teach them. In an era of rising accountability for schools and increasing pressure to ensure all students learn strong basic skills, Spokane said, in effect, “Bring it on.”

A strong, stable school board set demanding achievement goals and helped create an environment where every decision is made with the purpose of raising student achievement. Great teachers, administrators, support staff and effective union leaders are working smarter and harder to create team learning environments in our schools. They consistently work to use strategies proven to help more students learn. The community is doing its part through the local levy and in devoting thousands of volunteer hours to schools and students. Adequate resources are a continuing battle, but the can-do attitude of our educators has made a world of difference in making each child in our schools feel as if he or she can succeed.

These changes are creating a huge shift in outcomes for students, but the positive changes haven’t happened overnight. The latest achievement stories are a testament to what our community and our state can accomplish when we work together toward a common goal. Today’s students are learning how to think, problem-solve and apply their learning in ways that make them more engaged in school. We are emphasizing standards and accountability. And while that accountability includes student WASL test performance, the yearly assessment is viewed in perspective – it’s just another way to measure our progress in educating all students with the skills we know they will need to succeed in their future.

The most important thing we can do in the coming months and years is stand firm in our commitment to higher expectations and strong accountability for our students and our schools. These expectations must be backed with the support and resources needed to achieve both. From Madison Elementary to Sacajawea Middle School to Rogers High School, our students continue to prove that with the necessary support they will rise to the expectations we set for them.

Even with our latest accomplishments, we obviously still have work to do to adequately prepare all of our students for life beyond high school. But we’re heartened by the steady progress here in Spokane and in many other communities across the state. WASL results are just one, very public measure of that progress. Other important indicators of student success are the children we see every day reading stories, writing essays, solving math problems, performing science experiments, demonstrating physical fitness and excellence in the arts, learning creative ways to share what they know in all of our classrooms.

So this week, as you examine Spokane’s WASL scores, we hope you’ll do more than compare schools. We hope you’ll think about what those scores really represent – more and more of our youth are demonstrating they have the skills and knowledge to take the next step in school and in life. That’s the achievement we’re celebrating this week.

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