New state index grades schools’ success

Snohomish County’s alternative high schools and reentry programs are identified as needing high levels of support.

EVERETT — A new statewide index of schools uses factors such as graduation rates, test scores and attendance to determine which schools need to come up with plans to improve student performance.

The Washington School Improvement Framework went online last week. It gives the public a way to see how local schools stack up, and what types of support are needed based on the data.

The database shows which schools, under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, are required to work with the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction on programs to help students learn.

“We believe the schools will have some flexibility to do what it takes to help the kids in front of them,” said Shawn Stevenson, director of assessment and student services in Marysville.

That’s a “notable shift for school support in Washington,” according to OSPI. Under previous federal law, the No Child Left Behind Act, schools were given specific strategies to put in place if they weren’t measuring up to academic standards.

There’s been a push in recent years to track diverse student data in order to find gaps in learning and close them. The new index incorporates more information to identify problem areas.

Factors considered include: graduation rates; proficiency and improvement on math and English tests; progress made by English language learners; attendance; ninth graders on track to graduate; and opportunities for dual credit or advanced classes.

“All of the things in the index are important to us,” said Catherine Matthews, director of assessment and research for Everett schools. “You really have to understand how the index is created so you can understand how to improve your school.”

The challenge is that it ranks schools in relation to others around the state. For example, a school could have a fairly high graduation rate but score low if other schools have higher rates. That same school may show little progress in helping English language learners, but score high because others show even less progress.

The key is to work on specific areas, Matthews said.

“We are always very attentive in the achievement gap in respect to ethnicity,” she said. “We’re very attentive to that gap when it comes to students with disabilities, low-income students.”

The new state index breaks out student groups within schools, including by race and ethnicity, low-income students, those with disabilities and those who are learning English. It shows where some struggle even in high-scoring schools.

The lowest performing 5 percent of schools need comprehensive support, according to OSPI. Those districts must draft plans to improve, as must schools with graduation rates lower than 67 percent.

Other schools had one or more groups considered low-performing and must come up with more targeted plans.

Around Snohomish County, alternative high schools and reentry programs are identified as needing high levels of support. Those programs already are focused on helping students who have struggled to graduate.

The framework is new, and Arlington educators are waiting on more information from OSPI, assistant superintendent Kathy Ehman said. Then there will be training on areas where schools need to do better, and state officials have talked about possible grants, she said.

Some data for the new system is going to change. The index factors in exams taken by high school juniors, and those are being moved to sophomore year as graduation and testing requirements change.

Matthews expects that more students will take the tests.

“We’ll see a more accurate depiction,” she said.

The index also looks at data tracked over three years, Stevenson said.

“It creates an opportunity to focus more on growth … rather than chasing a new set of standards every year,” he said.

It’s unclear what improvement plans will look like, he said. He thinks they will be based on trends over time and within groups of students.

“Like any system or business, it’s hard to change things in a month or six months,” he said. “There are usually things schools can change given a few years, and this model helps support that.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439;

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