Schools to get test results

The results will be used to set goals for improvements.

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WALLA WALLA — Results from the 2012 state standards exams are due out next week, and with them will come new, more realistic goals for measuring and improving student achievement.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn will announce results from the exams Wednesday, along with releasing data specific to schools and districts. The results are due after Washington became one of the latest states to be granted a waiver from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Thanks to the waiver from the federal education law, Washington state schools and districts are no longer expected to have all students meeting standards in reading and math by 2014, a controversial goal that was among the biggest criticisms of the law.

Also gone is a requirement for state schools in steps of improvement, or those not reaching yearly goals, to set aside a portion of their federal dollars for third-party tutoring services.

Instead, Washington schools have committed to reaching Annual Measurable Outcomes, said Walla Walla Public Schools assessment coordinator Maria Garcia.

Under AMO’s, schools are to cut in half the achievement gap for particular subgroups by 2017, starting with test results from 2011. So if 40 percent of low-income fourth-graders were meeting math standards in 2011, the goal is for 70 percent to be meeting the standard by 2017, because 70 percent is half way between 40 percent and 100 percent.

The change is a more fair and more realistic target for helping students, Garcia said, in particular for those who live in poverty or face academic challenges in other ways, like English language learners or special education students.

By working to narrow the gap over time, and no longer facing sanctions for missing goals, schools have more flexibility and guidance toward helping students achieve. A new and more detailed evaluation system for principals and teachers is also being developed as a way to help instructors improve.

“In the old system, there was a demand that every single child be at proficiency. That we reach 100 percent proficiency on these exams by 2014, or else,” Garcia said. “From the beginning, there was an understanding on the part of the education system that that was not realistic. Could we make improvements? Yes. But that’s not realistic. It’s not real world. It has felt really imposing and unfair and bad for kids.”

Our federal education laws were drafted specifically to serve disadvantaged students and help them succeed. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act was enacted in 1965 to address the educational achievement gap between affluent and low-income students. The law’s Title I provision sets federal dollars aside for low-income schools.

The No Child Left Behind Act, enacted in 2001, is the most recent and most comprehensive reauthorization of ESEA. NCLB required states to measure student achievement through standards-based exams. The law looked to ensure “no child is left behind,” and set a target of 2014 for all students in the U.S. to meet or exceed standards in reading and math.

It was those “all-or-nothing” targets, combined with strict sanctions, that lead to the Obama administration granting waivers from the law if states outlined new, more realistic goals for achievement that were still in line with ESEA.

Through the waiver, schools that received Title I funds in Washington state will no longer be required to set a percentage aside for Supplemental Educational Services, the third-party tutoring option that was another controversial part of the NCLB law.

Although offered as free tutoring to students, the SES provision took a percentage of Title I funds from schools to cover the cost of tutoring. It ultimately diverted funds from in-classroom support, like teachers’ assistants and resources.

“On the face of it it’s hard for someone to say, ‘what’s bad about extra tutoring, or what’s bad about professional development for staff? Who can argue with that, why is that a bad thing?’ It isn’t on the surface. It was in the details,” Garcia said.

Garcia said the money went to tutoring services often unaffiliated to school districts, with no accountability and at a higher cost than to pay for in-class support.

“This will be more fair, and gives us more flexibility with our dollars to do what we know works with our kids in the community,” Garcia said of the waiver.

Schools are still required to use results from the state’s standards exams to measure achievement. In Washington, those are the Measurements of Student Progress exam taken in third through eighth grades, and the High School Proficiency Exam taken in the 10th grade. High school students must also pass an end-of-course exam in first- or second-year algebra. There is now also an end-of-course exam in biology that will be a graduation requirement starting with the class of 2015. The EOC exams can be taken starting in middle school if a student is enrolled in the relevant class.

The waiver is not a free pass from meeting targets for improvements. A new system is also in place in the state that groups schools as either in need of improvement or exceeding standards.

The system classifies qualifying schools in the state as priority, focus or reward schools. Priority schools are in the lowest five percent of schools based on state assessment scores over three years, or low graduation rates for high schools. Focus schools are in the lower 10 percent, while reward schools are among the top in the state.

The classifications will help districts learn from strategies implemented at its top performing schools and offer support to priority and focus schools. The categories are for schools that receive, or qualify to receive, Title I funds.

In Walla Walla, Lincoln High School and Garrison Middle School have scores placing them as focus schools, Garcia said. Lincoln was chosen for its graduation rate, and Garrison for its special education and English language learners scores. As focus schools, they’ll go through an evaluation process that will help them develop a plan to reach targets.

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