SCHOOLS: Alternative program faulted for grad rate

Collins Alternative Programs, a cooperative venture between the White River, Enumclaw, and Sumner school districts, made State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn’s list of the schools in Washington state that face some of the toughest challenges when it comes to student success.

Dorn’s office released a list Dec. 20, calling out the Collins Alternative Programs, now called White River Alternative Programs, for its graduation rate.

The news did not surprise leaders in the White River School District, who oversee the program for the other districts.

“We’ve know there’s potential for this for quite a while,” White River Superintendent Tom Lockyer said. “We feel good about the kids we do see graduate and know there are some that won’t graduate on time.”

Schools on the list are identified using a variety of factors, such as the school’s average state test scores in reading and math from 2009 to 2011, the school’s graduation rates and whether the school has meet the federal Adequate Yearly Progress requirements.

“We’re pleased it’s not the academic portion,” Lockyer said.

White River Alternative Programs Principal Elaine Elliott said the majority of students at her school arrive credit deficient, some significantly.

“They come to us behind,” she said. “Most of those are kids who would not have graduated without an alternative program.

“They don’t graduate on time, but they do graduate. They just didn’t graduate in the prescribed four years.”

In the past two years, 54 and 65 WRAP students walked across the stage at graduation in June and received a diploma.

Elliott said her staff can work with students through age 21, and some students take classes and then opt to take the GED, which statistically does not qualify as a WRAP graduate.

OSPI noted in its release, which is required by state code, the list is composed of the 5 percent of schools receiving or eligible to receive federal Title I funds that are identified as the “persistently lowest-achieving schools” in the state.

According to the OSPI release, this year, 57 schools from 38 districts were identified.

The process of identifying the schools began in 2010, with the introduction of the federal School Improvement Grants. That year, the 47 named schools were given a chance to apply for grants ranging from $50,000 to $2 million. As a state, Washington received $17 million.

For the 2012-13 school year, however, no additional federal school improvement grants will be available to support newly identified schools and districts.

“State law requires us to put out this list,” Dorn said. “But that law was also based on the assumption that schools would receive more funding in order to improve. To me, it’s completely unfair to call out these schools without giving them additional resources, but that is the world we live in now.”

Dorn explained that, of the 57 schools, only four have fewer than 50 percent of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches. “These schools are dealing with very challenging populations,” he said. “I know we’re in the middle of an economic crisis, but the past three years the Legislature has chiseled away at basic education resources. Those schools – in fact, all schools – need additional resources.”