Walla Walla, College Place schools miss federal mark

Every public school in both districts missed No Child Left Behind's adequate yearly progress standard.

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WALLA WALLA - An increasing number of area schools are in need of improvement, according to federal guidelines released today meant to measure whether students are meeting academic standards.

But the requirements outlined in the annual adequate yearly progress, a component of the federal No Child Left Behind Act that looks to see all students meeting math and reading standards by 2014, has come under criticism for its unrealistic goals.

In a news release this morning, Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn called the system unfair and said it needs to be changed, or risk having every school in the state eventually listed as needing improvement.

For 2009, nearly twice as many districts from last year -- 103 in all, representing more than 1,000 schools -- were listed in need of improvement.

All schools in College Place and Walla Walla school districts made the improvement list.

Any school whose students haven't met benchmarks for two years in a row enters "step 1," or the first of five steps in the accountability system. To move out of that status, a school must meet all its requirements for two years in a row.

In College Place, Davis Elementary moved into step 2 of the system while Sager Middle and Meadow Brook Intermediate schools were each listed at step 1.

In Walla Walla, Lincoln Alternative High School entered step 5, or the lowest ranking, meaning it has not met standards for about six consecutive years.

By definition, step 5 means a school would have to implement restructuring, or take drastic action that could include replacing staff members, contracting with an outside entity to operate the school or undergoing a state takeover, according to OSPIs' Web site.

But Lincoln principal Jim Sporleder said he was confident intervention and structured programs at his school were working positively, despite the AYP results.

Sporleder, who took over Lincoln and the district's alternative programs in 2007, said results from the state's standards exam show his students have made huge gains in reading, writing and math from previous years.

"I'm feeling OK for next year," he said. "If we're showing that we're doing interventions with our kids, I think we'll be fine with the state."

Schools and districts can challenge the results, or else demonstrate AYP was met through a "safe harbor" provision. In that case, a school would have to show its students were making marked improvements over time in specific categories.

Walla Walla High School entered step 4 this year, according to the results. Garrison and Pioneer middle schools and Green Park and Prospect Point elementary schools entered step 2 this year, while Berney, Blue Ridge, and Sharpstein elementary schools entered step 1.

On a positive note, schools that aren't meeting AYP benchmarks can seek funding for programs that would give more specialized attention to students.

Families whose children attend these schools can expect to receive a letter notifying them of the school's AYP status. Parents whose students attend a school in any step can choose to send their child to another school in the district that is doing better. Once a school is in step 2, parents of low-performing student can request to receive supplemental education services, such as tutoring for the child.

Results from the state's Washington Assessment of Student Learning exam, taken by students in the spring, also were released today. Statewide, students are holding steady in their understanding of reading, writing and math.

Among students in grades three through eighth and high school, scores went up in seven subject areas, went down in another seven and didn't change in six.

The WASL test is used to demonstrate whether the state's schools and districts are meeting AYP.

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