The new school accountability system is designed to help local officials focus on closing the achievement gaps between kids of different ethnic and economic groups. It is Washington's answer to the federal education law known as "No Child Left Behind." Washington has been granted a waiver to take a different approach to identifying and helping failing schools.
The old system labeled a school or a district as failing if they did not meet dozens of testing, attendance and graduation rate goals several years in a row. The national goal was to have every kid meet state academic standards in reading and math by 2014.
The new system sets goals for closing the achievement gap between kids from different groups with a longer deadline of cutting that gap in half by the 2017-18 school year.
In exchange for the longer deadline, parents and concerned community members get several things: more transparency, more dollars to help kids in the groups that need attention, and new rules requiring districts to take a harder look at what they can do to turn the numbers around.
"This is much more of a public, transparent posting of results," said Alan Burke, deputy superintendent of K-12 education for the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
The main improvement, in terms of transparency is the lowering of a number that kept some testing results away from public scrutiny. Schools used to need 30 kids in any one ethnic group or in their special education or English learners category before those kids' test results were posted. Now the results from each group that has at least 20 kids is available for public scrutiny.
The results from a lot more subgroups are now online. In the past, for example, Bellingham parents wouldn't know that Kulshan Middle School's 25 black students were doing better than expected in reading and weren't reaching the goal in math.
Although schools that have the most need for improvement are highlighted in two lists posted by the state on Thursday, every school is being measured against the new "Annual Measurable Objectives."
Parents will be able to compare their neighborhood school with the school down the road and decide if they want to try to move their child to a school that is doing a better job of helping kids like them.
This information is readily available, along with lots of other information about public schools, at the Washington State Report Card online. Click on AMO in the upper right hand section of the page and then choose your school using the dropdown menu on the left side of the page.
Districts are required to send parents a letter if their schools are on one of two statewide lists:
-Focus schools are 92 schools that make up the lowest 10 percent of Washington's Title 1 schools, which are low-income schools getting extra financial help from the federal government. Focus schools have the consistently lowest performing subgroups on statewide assessments in reading and math over three years.
-Priority schools are the 46 schools that make up the lowest 5 percent of Title 1 schools in the state, based on statewide test results. They have shown a lack of progress on these tests over three years.
The state also posted a list of "reward schools," which are the 58 Title 1 schools that have either show the most progress or have top student achievement on statewide tests.
View the Washington State School Report Card here >>