THINK TANKS GIVES DISTRICT FAILING GRADE

// District challenges scoring methods, cites poverty rates

The Washington Policy Center, a free-market think tank that researches business and educational issues, has released “grades” for Tacoma schools based on a formula proposed by state lawmakers. The concept is to distill the performance matrix used to track educational efforts into a simple grade to inform parents and school watchers about how successful schools are educating children.

The grades are a mixed bag, but the overall district received a failing grade from the policy center’s report, which district officials challenge.

Only two of the 60 schools in the Tacoma Public School District, Skyline and Point Defiance elementary schools, ranked “exemplary” — the top ranking given by State Board of Education officials. The index rates schools as exemplary, very good, good, fair or struggling.

If the “Achievement Index” that was outlined by the state Office of Public Instruction and lawmakers in a failed bill last session was used, a quarter of the schools would be “good,” while 80 percent of these schools would receive a “C” grade or lower, according to the WPC’s study.

“Parents of children in the Tacoma public school system want to know, and have a right to know, how their child’s school is performing, and this resource gives them easy way to do that,” explained WPC Education Director Liv Finne.

The policy center collected data from around the state and has been periodically releasing the specific “grades” of schools and school districts around Washington since February. The annual Achievement Index is a ranking of 2,189 public schools in Washington based on data compiled by the State Board of Education for the 2011 school year.

“People aren’t so much interested in the state statistics,” Finne said. “They want to know about their own schools. That’s why this index is so important.”

While the non-profit policy center has championed charter schools and other decentralized educational reforms that are outlined in the report, Finne said the purpose of the report cards is not to drive an agenda but promote debate on educational issues.

“We are not hoping to drive the discussion in any particular direction,” she said. “We would just like for people to have the discussion.”

Improving efforts to educate children involves several factors that simply can’t be distilled into a single grade, Tacoma School District spokesman Dan Voelpel said, especially from a group that has butted heads with the district on educational reforms for years.

“We are not a fan of the Washington Policy Center on these issues,” he said. “We know that we have schools that are not doing well, and we are doing a lot to improve that. We don’t feel it is helpful to assign a letter grade to these kids and these schools.”

Tacoma schools have some of the highest concentrations of poverty in the state, he said, and low standardized test scores mirror that reality. Schools in affluent neighborhoods fair well, while schools in lower-income neighborhoods don’t score as high. The high number of low-income neighborhoods, therefore, brings down the district’s overall “grade.”

The district’s research show that Tacoma schools with about 40 percent of its students receiving free or reduced-price lunch did well, while schools with closer to 60 percent on the free lunch program received lower grades.

“With Tacoma being clearly one of the most impoverished district’s in the state, it’s no surprise,” Voelpel said.

Performance scores around the district, however, are improving and many school programs have been noted for their innovation. Lincoln and Foss high schools, for example, have been ranked among the top in the nation.

Passing class?

The following presents the state's Achievement Index and adds letter grades to show how A through F ratings would apply if the legislature were to adopt a letter grade system.

ANGELO GIAUDRONE MID - C Good

ARLINGTON - F Struggling

BAKER D - Fair

BIRNEY D - Fair

BLIX ELEMENTARY - D Fair

BOZE - D Fair

BROWNS POINT - C Good

BRYANT - C Good

CRESCENT HEIGHTS - D Fair

DAY REPORTING SCHOOL - Unknown

DELONG - D Fair

DOWNING - C Good

EDISON - D Fair

FAWCETT - B Very Good

FERN HILL - D Fair

FIRST CREEK MIDDLE S - D Fair

FOSS - D Fair

FRANKLIN - C Good

GEIGER - D Fair

GRANT - C Good

GRAY - D Fair

HELEN B. STAFFORD EL - B Very Good

HOME BASED - Unknown

JASON LEE - C Good

JEFFERSON - D Fair

LARCHMONT - D Fair

LINCOLN - D Fair

LISTER - D Fair

LOWELL - D Fair

LYON - F Struggling

MANITOU PARK - D Fair

MANN - D Fair

MASON - C Good

MCCARVER - F Struggling

MEEKER - D Fair

MT TAHOMA - D Fair

NORTHEAST TACOMA - D Fair

OAKLAND HIGH SCHOOL - D Fair

PARK AVENUE CENTER - F Struggling

PEARL STREET CENTER - Unknown

POINT DEFIANCE - A Exemplary

JENNIE REED - D Fair

REMANN HALL JUVENILE - Unknown

ROOSEVELT - D Fair

SCIENCE AND MATH INS - D Fair

SHERIDAN - C Good

SHERMAN - B Very Good

SKYLINE - A Exemplary

SPECIAL SERVICES - F Struggling

STADIUM - C Good

STANLEY - B Very Good

STEWART - F Struggling

TACOMA BUSINESS ACAD - F Struggling

TACOMA PIERCE COUNTY - Unknown

TACOMA SCHOOL OF THE Arts - B Very Good

TCC FRESH START - D Fair

TRUMAN - C Good

WASHINGTON-HOYT - C Good

WHITMAN - D Fair

WHITTIER - C Good

WILSON - C Good

Courtesy of the Washington Police Center

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