Another Tacoma middle school joins list of low-performers

Jan 13, 2011

Half of Tacoma's middle schools now rank among the lowest-performing in the state. Baker Middle School is the fifth to land the dubious distinction.

The bright side? Low-scoring schools become eligible for federal grants intended to help turn things around. 

The News Tribune's Debbie Cafazzo reports Baker's student scores may reflect their challenges at home:

At the close of the last school year, it listed nearly 70 percent of its students as eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches – a widely used national barometer of student poverty. Years of education research links poverty and low test scores.

Four Tacoma middle schools landed on the low-scoring list last year:

  • Hunt Middle School
  • Giaudrone Middle School
  • Stewart Middle School
  • Jason Lee Middle School

Last year Tacoma received one of the largest portions of federal School Improvement Grants (or SIG's) awarded to Washington because of the number of schools placed on the low-performing list.  The district received more than $11 million of the state's $50 million award. 

What do the feds want in return?

Those grants are tied to mandated reforms.  Cafazzo writes Tacoma has two options for improving Baker, if - after applying - its awarded SIG money:

  • Under the turnaround model, the district could replace Baker Principal Steve Holmes and at least half the staff. That’s what the district did this year at both Stewart and Giaudrone. (Holmes had no comment Wednesday.)
  • Under the transformation model, the district must reform instruction and boost teacher effectiveness, reward teachers based on student performance, increase community involvement and extend learning time. That’s the model being tried at Jason Lee.

After any reforms would be put in place, the staff have three years to reach improvement benchmarks.

KPLU reported last August on one turnaround effort in Seattle, at West Seattle Elementary. There, the SIG paid for school building improvements, half of a new staff, and a new principal. Success there, as with Tacoma's efforts, will ultimately be decided by student test scores, released later this year.