As the 2014-15 school year gets going, local school districts are considering their student enrollment numbers and how their schools ranked in a recent achievement index by the Washington State Board of Education.
The Chewelah School District, whose total student numbers are estimated to be 845 for 2014-15, is feeling optimistic about the coming year, according to Superintendent Rick Linehan.
"Our final count is not in yet, but we believe we have more students enrolled that we budgeted - which is nice," Linehan said. "Our count is right around 845 district-wide. We have hired more help in our HomeLink and may increase in other areas if the numbers hold. "
Student numbers are important, as they tie directly to school funding. Schools receive apportionment, or a financial amount per student from the state, to run school operations. Local levies then supplement the state funds. The district must make a prediction, generally sometime in May, of the next year's enrollment in order to start creating a budget. September is the time when these estimates are shown to be correct or not, as students start attending classes. The Chewelah School District budgeted $8.9 million for the 2014-15 school year and has a current Maintenance and Operations levy in place at the rate of $2.29 per $1,000 assessed value.
Another way of sizing up school progress and future plans aside from student enrollment numbers is student performance on achievement tests. In 2009, the Washington legislature directed the State Board of Education to create an Achievement Index to inform parents about the quality of the state's 2,212 public schools. The new school assessment was taken to reflect the requirements of the U.S. Department of Education and anticipate the federal Smarter Balanced test to be taken by Washington students in 2015.
According to results, the Washington Policy Center reported that nearly half of public schools, 940 schools, or 42 percent, received a D ranking or lower; 782 schools, or 35 percent, received a B or C ranking and only 90 public schools, 4 percent, received an exemplary A ranking
In the achievement index, the Chewelah School District received "7" ratings on a score of 10 in the state assessment that considered reading, math, writing and science. Gess Elementary received a 7.88 average proficiency, Jenkins Middle School and Jenkins High School both received 7.38. The Washington Policy Center translated these scoes to a letter grade, as was suggested by Governor Jay Inslee in one of this statements about parents understanding how their child's school was preforming. A letter grade would give the Chewelah Schools a "B."
But Superintendent Linehan said he was wary of the letter grade system.
"We are of course proud of our high achieving schools -as the B grades indicate," Linehan said. "But the grading system is not one I agree with, as the complex system of a school is not that easily graded. "
Linehan's opinion of the letter grading system is also shared by Educational Services District 101 Superintendent Mike Dunn.
"Earlier this month, many schools in our region have had to send out 'failing school letters' because their school was not making 'Adequate Yearly Progress' under the No Child Left Behind (Elementary and Secondary Education) Act," Dunn said. "Like assigning one letter grade to any given school, to have to say a school is 'failing' because not all kids in every category are at standard is an oversimplified (and in my mind, flat wrong) designation about the entirety of a school."
Some Colville schools receive 'D' grades
Colville School District Interim Superintendent Pete Lewis was equally skeptical about the letter grades.
"What we need to know about student progress is if students read, write and think well," he said. "The laws related to scoring are antiquated by expecting every student of a certain age to be at the same grade level. That isn't realistic. Kids aren't standardized."
Some of the schools in the Colville School District did not fare as well in the state achievement index. Fort Colville Elementary received a 7.44 average but only 4.75 in overall growth; the Colville Jr. High received a 6.38 average but only 5.06 in growth, leading the Washington Policy Center to give the schools a "D" grade. Colville High School received 8.19 or a "B."
Lewis, who oversees the body of 1,725 students in the Colville School District and its $18 million budget, said assessments are not necessarily a bad thing, but they need to be more than a "snapshot."
"We need to do additional assessments to look at student growth so we aren't looking at a snapshot in time, just one day of that student's life," Lewis said. "What we need is more of a movie that shows student growth and progress."
"There are good things happening at our schools," he added.
To view the State Board of Education school assessments, visit https://eds.ospi.k12.wa.us/WAI/IndexReport. To see those scores translated to letter grades by the Washington Policy Center, visit http://washingtonpolicy.org/2012-13AchievementIndex.
By Jamie Henneman, The Independent Staff