Kent Phoenix Academy appears on state list for low achievement

Kent Phoenix Academy appeared on a Washington state list of "persistently lowest-achieving schools" because of a low graduation rate.

A total of 57 schools from 38 districts appeared on the Office of the Superintendent of Public Information's list released on Dec.19. Each school is placed into one of two tiers and then is categorized based on achievement or graduation rate.

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 2012-2013 school year, however, no additional federal school improvement grants to support newly identified schools/districts are available.

“State law requires us to put out this list,” said Randy Dorn, superintendent of public instruction. “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," Dorn 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, and all schools, need additional resources.”

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 met the federal Adequate Yearly Progress requirements.

The Kent School District staff called the list "misleading with negative connotations."

"We are actually very proud of Kent Phoenix and all the students and staff there have accomplished over the years," said Chris Loftis, executive director of communications. "In fact, I can think of only three words to respond to KPA being listed as a persistently lowest-achieving school, wrong, wrong and wrong."

Loftis credits the academy's low graduation rate to the fact that the school traditionally takes on students in need of help. The OSPI shows KPA’s 2009-2010 on-time graduation rate as 39.8 percent.

"This is an alarmingly low number until you consider that the non-traditional instructional approach that KPA was founded on was to reach out to students that are credit deficient and invite them back into a system that cares more about their success in the future than the problems of their past," Loftis said. "KPA develops individualized education plans for each student’s unique needs. The approach is phenomenally successful."

Loftis pointed out that in a soon-to-be released Washington School Accountability Index, Kent Phoenix moved from the “fair” category it received in the 2009 to 2010 school year to the “good” category for 2010 to 2011, in regards to educational performance.

This is the first time a school in the Kent district has been named on the list for low achievement, according to Lofits.

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