Seventeen Washington Schools That Are Beating the Odds


September 10, 2014


In education, we are always hearing about research that points out a strong negative correlation between poverty and student achievement. In other words, the greater level of poverty, the lower the level of achievement.

That’s not always the case. As I pointed out in an article for the WASA Hotline newsletter and on my own blog, there is good news in Washington state’s recently released Achievement Index (AI) that shows 17 schools are beating the odds by demonstrating consistent high levels of student achievement in spite of high poverty rates.

Originally designed to be the basis of our school accountability system, the AI includes an Exemplary Tier. To earn that designation, schools had to be ranked in the top 5 percent of all schools based on the past three years’ AI scores.

Based on the 2013 AI data, 90 schools received that honor, and all of them deserve accolades for consistent high scores within such a robust measure of school performance. It should not be surprising, though, that when you take the average of the Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL) rate for all 90 schools, it’s just 23 percent — or half of the statewide average of 46 percent.

But, there are also schools in the Exemplary Tier with FRL rates higher than the state average — and in many cases, significantly higher. The table shows the 17 schools that beat the odds and made this list. I have also included the state data on transitional bilingual and minority percentages because those factors are important considerations in our state’s achievement/opportunity gap.

Washington State’s Achievement Index (AI) that shows 17 schools are beating the odds by demonstrating consistent high levels of student achievement in spite of high poverty rates. Source: OSPI 2013 Achievement Index and 2012-13 Demographic Information by School
School District Enrollment FRL Rate Transitional Bilingual Minority Students
Gildo Rey Elementary Alburn 516 88.3% 38.6% 75.0%
Alderwood Elementary Bellingham 304 81.3% 35.1% 58.2%
Mercer Middle Seattle 982 73.8% 11.5% 93.7%
Hudtloff Middle Clover Park 678 66.1% 8.1% 65.2%
Lyman Elementary Sedro-Wooley 155 59.9% 0.7% 9.7%
Wide Hollow Elementary West Valley (Yakima) 381 59.5% 12.4% 41.5%
Liberty Ridge Elementary Sumner 427 58.0% 4.9% 26.0%
Odyssey Elementary Mukilteo 641 57.1% 26.1% 65.7%
Chelan High lake Chelan 416 55.7% 24.4% 53.5%
Martin Sortun Elementary Kent 610 55.3% 29.9% 73.0%
Nooksack Elementary Nooksack 298 55.1% 16.7% 36.2%
Icicle River Middle Cascade 279 48.8% 5.6% 34.1%
Silver Lake Elementary Everett 503 48.7% 19.4% 40.6%
Woodland Elementary Puyallup 574 46.7% 2.8% 33.8%
Toldeo High Toledo 282 45.7% 0.8% 18.1%
Charles F. Adams High Clarkston 739 43.7% 0.4% 11.8%
Liberty Bell Jr Sr High Methow Valley 259 43.5% 0.4% 9.7%

You’ll note that the last three on the list are high schools with FRL rates slightly lower than the state average, but their district rates are well above that average. Since under-claiming of FRL status is common among high school students, it seemed fair to add these schools to the list.

The staff in these 17 schools should be congratulated for their consistent, outstanding efforts. They have not only earned distinction, they have done so by helping their students overcome the odds that often result in much lower rates of success.

Closing the achievement gap is the most important challenge facing our state’s educational leaders. In spite of remarkable results with our National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores and other measures of student performance, Washington’s achievement gap has continued to grow. The district and school leaders in these 17 communities have found a way to beat those odds, thereby, coming much closer to the vision of success for all students.

At this point, I don’t know how these schools did it, but that’s a question to focus more on in the future. In the meantime, if I were still leading a school district I would be asking these 17 superintendents what led to their school’s success.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on strategies you've seen work on improving student achievement in high-poverty schools.

The Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA) is an organization for professional administrators committed to leadership in providing equity and excellence in student learning and in developing competent, ethical, and visionary leaders.