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South King County schools show mixed results on achievement index

Utilizing an idea endorsed by leaders of both political parties, Washington Policy Center has published letter grades for Washington state public schools. The grades, based on the State Board of Education's annual "Achievement Index," reveal surprising results for schools in the eight districts of Southwest King County.

Last year Gov. Jay Inslee said, "I'm proposing [that] every school will have a letter grade that will be given and disseminated then to the parents in the district so that we hold ourselves accountable." Today Governor Inslee continues to call for giving letter grades to schools.

"Parents of Southwest King County schools 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.

According to the annual index, 10 of the 159 schools of the area districts rank "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 used such a scale, "exemplary" would be the equivalent of an "A" grade while "struggling" would be considered an "F." Even though the idea of assigning letter grades has wide appeal, state government has yet to adopt the change.

Overall, 25.5 percent of Southwestern King County area schools are in the bottom two categories of the index — "fair" or "struggling" — while 46.5 percent of schools finished in the middle, a rating of "good." If the Index used a grading scale of A–F, 72 percent of these schools would receive a "C" grade or lower.

The best- and worst-scoring schools from the Southwest King County area districts are listed below.

Renton School District

Best: Lindbergh Senior High School– Exemplary (A)

Worst: Renton Academy– Fair (D)

Tukwila School District

Best: Cascade View Elementary – Exemplary (A)

Worst: Showalter Middle School– Fair (D)

Highline School District

Best: Health Sciences and Human – Exemplary (A)

Worst: Beverly Park Elementary – Fair (D)

Federal Way School District

Best: Federal Way Public Academy – Exemplary (A)

Worst: Wildwood Elementary – Struggling (F)

Mercer Island School District

Best: Island Park Elementary – Exemplary (A)

Worst: Lakeridge Elementary – Good (C)

Vashon Island School District

Best: Vashon Island High School – Very Good (B)

Worst: Chautauqua Elementary – Fair (D)

Kent School District

Best: Sawyer Woods Elementary – Very Good (B)

Worst: Cedar Valley Elementary – Struggling (F)

The annual Achievement Index is a ranking of 2,189 public schools in Washington State based on data compiled by the State Board of Education for the 2011–12 school year. It is conducted to determine whether school officials are fulfilling their paramount duty under the state constitution to provide a quality education for every child.

The full Achievement Index covers the 2011–12 school year and is available online. Local schools are listed alphabetically, by district, and by ranking. WPC's two-page Policy Note explaining the Achievement Index is available here.

Key Findings:

• Only 6 percent of Southwest King County public schools are considered Exemplary;

• 25.5 percent of public schools of the Southwest King County area are Fair or Struggling;

• Public schools in Washington state receive $10,320 per student per year in operating funds;

• Since 1980, education spending (adjusted for inflation) has more than doubled, while the number of students, due to smaller families, has increased by only one-third.

Former Governor Gregoire says "I put a lot more money into K–12. But then you sit there and say, ‘Why have I not been able to get the result I set out to achieve?'" Policy changes that would improve learning for children are described in Washington Policy Center's education reform plan, Eight Practical Ways to Improve Public Schools.

"One potential policy change is adjusting the Achievement Index by using an A–F grading scale," said Finne. "Such a change would make it easier for parents to understand how their child's school is performing. Legislation has already been introduced in the 2013 Washington Legislative Session that would accomplish that goal."

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