Low-achieving school list mixed message for Lower Yakima Valley school districts

State education officials yesterday, Monday, released a list of the schools in this state considered to be the "persistently lowest-achieving."

Among the 57 schools on the state list are Sunnyside High School and Mabton Middle School.

"Old information"

used for SHS listing

Dr. Rick Cole is the superintendent of Sunnyside schools, and he said the state superintendent's office is using old graduation rates in including SHS on the list of low-achieving schools.

Cole noted a federal school improvement grant has helped the district to improve graduation rates to 72 percent in 2011 and 65 percent the year before that.

The national standard for graduation rates is 60 percent. "We anticipate next year's graduation rate to be higher still," Cole said.

Cole says the superintendent of public instruction's office likely used the 49 percent graduation rate from three years ago in putting SHS on the list.

"They're just behind in their calculations," he said. "It's not current results that are causing this, it's old information."

Cole said the state superintendent's office told him SHS is still on the low-performing list based on the graduation rate from three years ago because the school improvement grant is for three years.

At least SHS was able to make use of a $2 million school improvement grant.

The same can't be said for Mabton Middle School, the other Lower Valley school listed on the low-achieving list.

No funds available

for Mabton

Minerva Morales is the superintendent of Mabton schools, and she noted middle school students have had difficulties with state-standard math tests.

"There's been some growth in reading, but math has been the biggest challenge, as it has been throughout the state," said Morales.

Unlike SHS, though, Mabton will not be able to seek school improvement funds, as for the 2012-13 school year no additional federal school improvement grants will be available.

If the funds were available, Mabton Middle School would have had to take steps for receiving and implementing the federal grant. SHS, for example, replaced its principal and lengthened the school day to meet requirements of the grant.

Without the grant, though, there's no mandate for the major changes at Mabton Middle School like SHS saw.

"That's a good question that I'm asking, too," said Morales when asked what it means for Mabton Middle School to be on the state's list of low achieving schools.

"From my understanding if there remains no funding, OSPI (the state superintendent's office) will recommend to the State Board of Education that no districts be listed," she said.

The list of low performing schools is currently mandated by state law, consisting of the 5 percent of schools that are receiving or eligible to receive federal Title I funds and are identified as the "persistently lowest-achieving schools" in the state.

The process of identifying the schools began in 2010, with the introduction of the federal school improvement grants.

"State law requires us to put out this list," said Randy Dorn, superintendent of public instruction. "But that law was also based on the assumption that schools would receive more funding in order to improve. To me, it's completely unfair to call out these schools without giving them additional resources, but that is the world we live in now."

National testing coming to Washington

That world is going to change even more in the next two years.

That's because the state's list of low achieving schools and alphabet soup of mandated student exams are all headed for extinction.

That's according to Cole, who noted new national standard exams are coming in 2014. Known as Common Core, the national standard exams are being developed by a non-profit consortium called Smarter Balance that includes Bill Gates among its supporters.

Cole said 37 states, including Washington, have adopted Common Core. "It's creating a new, national assessment," he said.

The result, Cole added, "is that these lists and No Child Left Behind pretty soon will be gone."

The bottom line, Cole notes, is that whether it's state or national standards - and with or without school improvement grants - the Sunnyside School District is committed to student graduation.

"Next year when the money goes away, the list goes away...but I can assure you the graduation rate will be well above the national rate.


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