The day after Alexa Neff took home her scores on the third-grade state standardized test, her mom brought in a bouquet of flowers for her daughter's teacher.
Ruth Livingston Elementary teacher Jami Simpkin made the 9-year-old feel confident about the test, said Alexa's mother Jill Neff.
And, she said, Simpkin also told her and her husband what Alexa needed to work on at home, and "we did it."
Ruth Livingston was one of two Pasco School District schools that met adequate yearly progress, or AYP, a requirement created under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
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Schools make the list if they miss targets in one or more of up to 37 categories -- including the performance of subsets of students like those from low-income families -- two years in a row.
Even if a school falls short in just one category twice in a row, it's on the list. Schools that receive federal aid face sanctions ranging from allowing parents to transfer their child to replacing staff.
The intent of the law is that all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014.
Superintendent Saundra Hill said it isn't that Ruth Livingston and James McGee Elementary School are doing more than the rest of the district's schools.
The two schools have demographics that are different from most of Pasco's other schools, she said. Livingston and McGee have fewer low-income and transitional bilingual students.
At Livingston, 45 percent of the students are considered low income, and 13 percent are in a transitional bilingual program. McGee has 40 percent low income and about 35 percent in transitional bilingual programs, Hill said.
Pasco is about as opposite of the state average as a district can get in its demographics, Hill said. Overall, 72 percent of the district's students live in poverty and about 61 percent are in a transitional bilingual program.
Pasco isn't alone in not meeting the federal AYP requirement.
Kennewick and Richland school districts also failed to make AYP targets last school year.
Statewide, 212 districts and 968 schools failed to meet the progress targets.
Hill said it's frustrating because the district uses research-based methods to improve student learning, while federal expectations and penalties are not research-based.
For example, getting rid of principals and teachers when a school doesn't meet AYP requirements causes disruption instead of improving scores, Hill said.
All of the district's schools receive Title I funding, federal aid provided to schools with high poverty levels, so unlike schools that don't, Pasco is penalized for not meeting federal requirements.
Hill said they've had some principals willingly switch schools so the district can comply with the federal sanctions.
Hill said the requirement for all students to meet state standards by 2014 is unrealistic. Students can't pass the state standardized test until after they have learned English.
"People are just not listening to the reality of our world," Hill said.
The state standardized test isn't a valid measure of what English language learners know, Hill said. When the district tests students in their dominant language, they show progress the state test doesn't reveal.
Hill said the late-exit model, which teaches non-English speakers the language, is working.
This is how it works: A kindergartner who isn't proficient in English is placed in a transitional bilingual class where 80 percent of the day -- including in core subjects -- students are taught in their primary language. (Spanish and Russian are the two languages offered in Pasco).
Time spent in the primary language is reduced as the student moves through elementary school, increasing to 80 percent in English by eighth grade.
When students in the program remain in the district, many outperform their English-only peers on the 10th-grade state exam.
That's a different approach from the pull-out model other districts use. Hill said research shows pulling students out of their classes for English instruction works in the early elementary grades, but those students have increasing difficulty as they progress through school.
Despite Pasco's challenges in meeting federal expectations because of its diverse student body, Livingston and James McGee's are seen as successes in the eyes of the federal government.
Livingston Principal Susan Sparks said she would attribute the school making AYP last year to the staff's focus on teaching standards and interventions for individual students. In the past eight years, the school's met AYP four times.
Many teachers use common lesson plans so students receive similar instruction, Sparks said. And all the first- through fifth-grade teachers have been trained in Guided Language Acquisition Design, or GLAD.
The visual program is used mostly in social studies and science lessons, Sparks said. Vocabulary is learned in context and by using drawings and diagrams.
GLAD is one strategy that Pasco has adopted, Hill said. It also targets individual students with support building-wide.
At Livingston, that translates to having a handy mini record on each student. Sparks said it's for staff use only to help keep track of how teachers are meeting each student's needs.
And the school has events like Family Math Night coming up on Oct. 7, at which families will learn the math games their students play at school so they can reinforce the learning at home, Sparks said.
That's part of a districtwide focus to involve parents in their student's learning, Hill said.
Simpkin said teachers at Livingston provide one-on-one and small group help for students who struggle with a standard after it is taught in class.
She and the other third grade teachers share students, so they can be taught in a group of students near their own level.
"I think it's important to meet the kids where they are," she said.
Simpkin said relationships and feeling confident help kids learn. Once they have that, they can learn anything.
According to the federal government, Livingston is "in improvement." The school has to make AYP two years in a row to get off the federal list.
But parent Jill Neff considers it a successful school already.
She has kept up to date on what her daughter is working on and teachers helped her choose the teacher at the next grade level who would be the best fit for her daughter.