Oak Harbor, Whidbey middle schools land on feds’ improvement list

The performance of special education students on state tests is credited with landing the two middle schools in Oak Harbor on the federal school improvement list mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act.

The low scores by special education students on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning means Oak Harbor Middle School and North Whidbey Middle School will enter the first step of the state’s five-step school improvement list.

For example, of the 45 Oak Harbor special education seventh-graders who took the reading assessment, 93 percent did not meet the standard, according to the School Report Card produced by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Lance Gibbon, assistant superintendent for the Oak Harbor School District, said in an interview that students who have reading disabilities are having trouble passing that portion of the WASL and students with math disabilities are having trouble passing the math portion.

School officials are taking several steps to improve special education performances on the state assessment. First, they are working on the scheduling for special education students. An example is found with the new reading curriculum. It calls for special education students to work on their reading in advance so they are better prepared to work in the classroom with other students.

Gibbon said it’s important to keep special education students as part of the regular classroom while providing extra support to meet their needs.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires public schools to make adequate yearly progress in 75 different categories, including ethnic groups, low income, limited English speakers and special education. When a school fails to make adequate progress for two consecutive years, then it is placed on the school improvement list.

Many schools

join the list

The two Oak Harbor middle schools join 628 other schools that were placed on the list this year. That is more than double from the previous year. The spike in the number of schools stems from the increased number of “bench marks” schools must achieve to meet federal requirements.

The number of schools in the first year of improvement is five times higher this year compared to last year.

“There is no question that every single one of our schools has room for improvement,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson said in a news release. “However, this year the fatal flaws of No Child Left Behind have become abundantly clear. The law has gone too far.”

Gibbon noted that, at this rate, the number of schools on the list will continue to increase in coming years.

“Within a few years all schools will be in school improvement,” Gibbon said.

The consequences for being placed on the list depend on whether schools receive federal Title I money, which neither of the Oak Harbor middle schools receives. Gibbon noted that there are schools in the state that have been on the list for more than five years and have made little improvement.

Gibbon questioned whether AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress), which measures math and reading, is a suitable way to judge a school’s success.

“AYP is not a valid measure of a school’s success,” Gibbon said. Rather, he said that AYP provides more of a snapshot of student performance in math and reading. Other factors should weigh in to determine school success, such as athletics, advance placement classes and arts.

Of the 75 categories the school district is measured in for adequate yearly progress, the school district met the goal in 63 of them. Last year, the school district met the goal in 72 categories.

Elsewhere, the Coupeville School District did not achieve AYP in reading at the Cedar Program. It also didn’t make AYP in three areas at the elementary school: reading and math for special education students, and math for low income students, said Superintendent Patty Page. She added that no school in the district is on the improvement list.

Oak Harbor School District spokesman Joe Hunt said that the all but one of similar-sized school districts in the state has at least two schools on the list.

Some positive signs seen

Even though the school district had two schools make the improvement list this year, officials are encouraged by signs that the achievement gap between groups is closing.

The results of the WASL that students took last spring show low-income students scored less than 1 percent lower in reading while low income students statewide performed 16.1 lower. They also scored 1.8 percent lower in math compared to 18.7 percent statewide while the gap in writing was 6.5 percent in Oak Harbor compared to 12.8 percent statewide, according to a news release from the Oak Harbor School District.

Black and Hispanic students scored better than than white students in Oak Harbor in reading, while statewide scores show black students are about 17 percent lower than their white counterparts. The score disparity for black students in math is down to 1.8 percent locally while the difference is 33.4 percent statewide.

“This is very important to us,” said high school Principal Dwight Lundstrom in a news release. “And it’s important to our Navy families to know they are coming to schools where everyone has an equal shot at success. Of all the things we’ve accomplished over the last several years, this is right there at the top.”

He said that Oak Harbor’s low income and minority students were pretty much in line with the state average.

“We are a very diverse school, with students students from all parts of the country here with their Navy parents. It’s important we provide all of them with the best education possible and keep everyone on an equal footing.”

In other areas of the WASL, the Oak Harbor School District followed state trends in some areas. Math continues to be a statewide problem.

In Oak Harbor, officials noted that an increased number of students did not take the assessment. At the high school, 14 percent of the students didn’t take the math assessment and 12 percent didn’t take the reading assessment. Those numbers are about double the state average.

Gibbon said he wasn’t sure why so many sophomores didn’t participate. He speculated that the students may be burned out on test taking and noted that teachers can’t force students to take the WASL.

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