Is it the students' fault when a school doesn't rank Exemplary?

March 1, 2012

Is it an excuse or reality? Pasco School District officials appear to be blaming non-English speaking and low income students for poor results in the state’s most recent Public School Accountability Index.

The index, released in January by Washington Policy Center, grades all of the state’s nearly 2,100 schools. The rankings offer parents and taxpayers a report card on how their child’s school is performing.

However, this week Pasco School District officials in a Tri-City Herald article dismissed the results, saying “the rankings don't factor in the challenges of educating English language learners and low-income students.”

It is not correct to say the state ranking doesn’t factor low-income students. The index specifically takes into account the performance of low-income students.

Schools are measured on a scale of one to seven, based on four indicators and five outcomes. The four indicators are:

  • Achievement by non-low income students
  • Achievement by low-income students
  • Achievement compared to other schools with similar demographics
  • Improvement in student achievement.

The five outcomes are student test scores in reading, writing, math and science, plus each school’s graduation rate. Using these measures, schools were placed in one of five categories: Exemplary, Very Good, Good, Fair or Struggling.

The Pasco School District does not have a single school that rated Exemplary. Fourteen Pasco schools ranked in the bottom two categories of the index (Fair and Struggling). Its best school – Ruth Livingston Elementary – was ranked ‘Very Good.’ Last year, Ruth Livingston scored ‘Exemplary.’ At that time, Pasco officials praised the result, but this year they are criticizing the rating system instead.

Superintendent Saundra Hill now says "The index was designed to make it difficult to achieve exemplary, and so only those schools that serve higher income and English speaking students will ever be able to reach it.”

Actually, schools with low income and bilingual students do achieve the “Exemplary” ranking.

In the latest index, these schools (each with a large number of low income students) earned a top ranking:

Exemplary Schools                                      Free/Reduced Lunch Students

Wing Luke Elementary (Seattle)                                   80.7% 

Alderwood Elementary (Bellingham)                              79.7% 

Maple Elementary (Seattle)                                          66.6% 

Superintendent Hill seems to give up hope and conclude her schools and students are not good enough to achieve Exemplary status. It may be “difficult” - but as parents know, despite the pessimism of Pasco school officials, it is certainly within every child’s reach to excel.

Assistant Superintendent of the Richland School District, Mike Hansen’s response is more encouraging. He said the index is based on good data and “points to some things to focus on.”