Yearly test results for Washington state students are set to be released Wednesday, Aug. 29, but the way the state uses those results will be different.
This year, the results won't be used to determine if a school has made "adequate yearly progress." That benchmark included sanctions for public schools and districts that didn't meet certain percentage levels of students passing state tests each year.
Washington state applied to the U.S. Department of Education and received a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act requirements. The federal law's goal was to have all students meet standards by 2014 for a school to satisfy AYP, a feat some school officials called mathematically impossible.
Bellingham School District Superintendent Greg Baker liked the fact that AYP started the discussion about making sure all kids in all schools are successful, and said the 100 percent goal gave schools something to strive for.
But he said it could be frustrating to have a school labeled a failure even if it was improving.
"I like that they're trying to change it to be more supportive, more reflective of the real work," Baker said of the new method of measuring school achievement. "We're getting better at how you articulate growth, rather than a test score at the end of the year that doesn't really tell the whole story."
In 2011, roughly two out of every three schools in the state didn't meet AYP. In Whatcom County, 39 schools didn't make AYP, and none of the districts did.
This year, the state is replacing AYP with "Annual Measurable Objectives" results, which will be released the end of September. Those results will focus on proficiency gaps between different categories of students - grouped by race and educational needs - with the aim of cutting those gaps in half by 2017.
As part of AMO, the state has identified four categories of schools: priority, focus, emerging and rewards.
"Priority schools" are among the lowest 5 percent of public schools receiving or eligible for Title I funding in the state, based on achievement of all its students on statewide assessments, with a demonstrated a lack of progress on those assessments over three years. High school graduation rates are also factored in.
The goal of identifying priority schools is to improve their performance, close persistent gaps in proficiency, and substantially improve student learning and outcomes.
No Whatcom County schools are in that category.
"Focus schools" are in the lowest 10 percent in the state, with subgroups performing poorly in the last three years. Lynden Middle School is the only focus school in Whatcom County, with its limited English and special education students not meeting standards.
"Emerging schools" are the next 5 percent up from "priority schools," and the next 10 percent up from "focus schools." The state had not released a list of emerging schools by Friday, Aug. 24.
"Rewards schools" are the highest performing or highest progress schools that have met AYP or have been in the top 10 percent for reading and math scores the past three years. Locally, Bellingham's Sunnyland Elementary and Nooksack Valley's Sumas Elementary are "rewards schools."
Though AMO is still a work in progress, Baker said he hopes it "pushes us to do better than we are."
He'd like to use the AMO to gauge incremental growth, so teachers and administrators can know how best to help students excel.
"It needs to be useful," he said. "I want an assessment system that feels like a tool to help educators do their work."
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