Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn announced that Renton school Lakeridge Elementary has dramatically improved student test scores in math and reading, taking the school off a list of the state’s chronically lowest performing.
The announcement was made Wednesday, March 11, during a surprise visit to the school by Dorn. He gave an update of school districts in the state known as Required Action Districts, or those that received money and assistance to help schools improve. Lakeridge, in Renton’s Skyway neighborhood, was identified in 2011, based on a three-year trend in the previous years of low performance, with the School Improvement Grant (SIG) Designation. At that time, the school was among the lowest 5 percent for performance of state schools.
The grant required the district to replace the principal at Lakeridge in 2011, lengthen the school day and year, and pick a research-based model for improvement. Lakeridge found a new principal in Jessica Calabrese and a research-based math-improvement effort, led by the University of Washington School of Education. The school was given three years and funding to turn test scores around and they did it, showing dramatic gains even in the first year of the program.
“It’s kind of funny because we knew our scores, but to hear it said back, it was just such great recognition for the staff and their hard work,” said Principal Calabrese.
Lakeridge is now recognized as being in the top 50 percent of all elementary schools statewide. Nearly 80 percent of its third-graders last year passed the state reading exams, exceeding state and district averages. Also, nearly 70 percent of Lakeridge fourth-graders and 80 percent of its fifth-graders passed state mathematics exams, again exceeding state and district averages.
“This is great news,” said Dorn in a press release. “It shows that with intentional assistance and focus, struggling schools can become successful schools. We can turn around schools only when we demand the same for all students that we demand for our own children.”
So what did it take to turn around Lakeridge, a school where 88.2 percent of students receive free or reduced-price meals?
The district and school staff adhered to the requirements of the grant and flourished with the added funding and intense focus. A school improvement plan was created, the school day was extended, the year was extended by five days, a new student behavior plan was instituted and a determined effort to improve math instruction was launched.
The biggest challenges, according to Calabrese, was staffing qualified teachers from an increasingly shrinking pool of candidates and time. With the need to collaborate and do teacher professional development and the school day extended by 30 minutes, it was also a challenge to pack everything they needed to get done into every day. The last year of the program, the area substitute teacher shortage made it difficult for them to schedule their professional development.
Nine of the 30 teachers, who were with the school pre-designation, are still with Lakeridge today. There was significant staff turnover at the beginning. There was normal attrition, Calabrese said, but also teachers who left because they couldn’t meet the demands the grant required. The SIG designation also tied teacher evaluations to student growth. She said it was “healing” for those same nine teachers to hear that Lakeridge is no longer a failing school.
Now in their fourth year since the designation, the principal said that staff and students are on track to continued success. They now have a smaller SIG budget compared to grant years, but they have been able to move grant-funded staff to district-funded positions. They’ve also maintained their professional development in their math and literacy labs.
“It’s really important that we recognize that we built this and it is exactly what we make it,” said Calabrese. “As long as we keep doing it, we’ll keep getting these results, but we can’t lose our focus.”
Because of the school’s gains, the district is being considered by OSPI for exiting the Required Action status.