2 Tri-City schools recognized for strides in achievement

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 23, 2013 

Two Tri-City schools were recognized Friday by state education officials for strides made in student achievement but more than two dozen other schools in the region were cited for needing to do more for their students.

Pasco's Edwin Markham Elementary School and Richland's Sacajawea Elementary School, as well as 73 other schools around the state, earned "reward schools" designations.

But state Superintendent Randy Dorn also called for continued support and improvement in low-achieving schools serving some of the state's poorest students.

"We have an obligation to ensure that each of our 1.1 million students in Washington has an opportunity to attend an excellent school," he said in a release.

School officials in the Tri-City area acknowledged the need to move the most disadvantaged students forward, but also said the state's new ratings were premature and didn't consider important characteristics of a school's student enrollment.

"The state and federal policy-makers fail to acknowledge schools like those in Pasco where a large percentage, and often a majority, of the students ... are not yet proficient in English," said Pasco Superintendent Saundra Hill in a statement provided to the Herald. "Students who are not proficient in English will not pass state academic tests offered only in English."

The Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction provides designations each year to schools receiving money from the federal government to help students from poor families.

The designations are required as part of the state's agreement with federal officials to not be subject to the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which requires all students be proficient in math and reading by 2014, among other things.

Reward schools are recognized either for being high performing or for making significant progress in closing achievement gaps and meeting standards in reading and math.

All other schools receiving the extra federal funding are designated: priority, focus or emerging. They are among the lowest achieving in state math and reading assessments, sometimes have specific groups of students far behind others at their school or have graduation rates below 60 percent.

Pasco had 15 schools listed as under-achieving, the most of any district in the region, but school officials in Kennewick, Finley, North Franklin, Kiona-Benton City and Prosser were told at least one of their schools needs improvement.

To see the lists, go to http://goo.gl/zLosZ. You can search for the schools by their educational service district -- ESD 123 serves the bulk of schools in the Mid-Columbia.

The under-performing schools are required to do a number of things, from developing improvement plans that must be approved by state officials to meeting with parents to talk to them about efforts to improve the school.

Lorraine Cooper, spokeswoman for the Kennewick School District, said, "It's no surprise to find schools that are heavily affected" by poverty, language barriers or other factors.

The district has worked hard to serve students facing those issues but, she said, the designations have come out only a couple of months after the state received a waiver from federal regulation and before any recent efforts could show results.

Cooper added that even schools with a high number of students from poor families have a number of students who are not disadvantaged, and Cooper said they also need to be served.

"We want to make sure all students are being challenged," she said.

Hill said the Pasco School District has school improvement plans in place at its schools and efforts to improve those plans and increase student achievement are ongoing.

"As students learn English and academics within our programs, they do become proficient in English and do pass the state tests at later grades when students have had sufficient time and access to learn," she said.

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