OSPI Explains: What Is the Washington School Improvement Framework, and How Does It Support Schools?

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Katy Payne she/her

Washington state is home to more than 2,000 public schools, from the mountains and forests in the west to the plains and prairies in the east. Each of these schools serves a unique community, and each community has unique needs.

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is committed to supporting schools and districts in meeting the needs of their communities. One of the ways the agency does this is through the school improvement process.

In alignment with federal requirements, Washington state analyzes multiple measures of data to identify the public schools that will receive school improvement supports. These supports vary depending on the needs of the school, and may include additional technical assistance, partnerships with continuous improvement professionals, and access to targeted funding.

OSPI recently published data on the schools identified for supports for 2024. Below, learn more about this data and what it means for Washington’s public schools.

What does it mean when a school is identified for improvement supports?

OSPI provides supports to all public schools across Washington in the form of tools, resources, and technical assistance. Some schools, for a variety of reasons, need additional supports.  

Teri Martin is the Director of Federal and State Programs for the Toppenish School District, where multiple schools have been identified for improvement supports. She and other education leaders are quick to praise their students, teachers, and administrative staff.

“All kids have assets, no matter what ethnicity, no matter what socioeconomics — no matter what they have,” Martin said.

Across the district, which serves rural communities near Yakima, 90% of students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals. Martin said schools in her district need support because of the effects of poverty on students.

“A lot of our kids come to us with [a] lack of opportunity,” Martin said. “They don’t have books in their family, their families are working sometimes multiple jobs or very long hours, and kids are taking care of themselves.” (Read more about the Toppenish and Mount Adams school districts and their experience of the school improvement process.)

How are schools identified for improvement supports?

Federal law has long required states to have systems for identifying schools in need of additional support.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) became law in 2015, requiring all states to identify schools in need of support and provide that support through a state-determined process. Washington created the Washington School Improvement Framework (WSIF) as part of the state’s ESSA plan.

The WSIF identification process occurs on a schedule of cycles. It gives schools a score of 1–10 based on these measures:

  • English language arts (ELA) proficiency
  • Math proficiency
  • ELA student growth percentile (SGP)
  • Math SGP
  • Graduation rate
  • Regular attendance
  • Ninth grade on track rates
  • Dual credit course completion
  • English learner progress

What happens once a school is identified for improvement supports?

Not all schools are identified for improvement supports. In each identification cycle, there is a threshold score: Schools that score higher do not receive improvement supports, while schools that score lower do.

There are four possible tiers of supports:

  • Tier 1 schools are identified to specifically support one or two student groups.
  • Tier 2 schools are identified to specifically support three or more student groups.
  • Tier 3 schools are identified to support all students or focus on their graduation rate.
  • Tier 3 Plus schools are identified for the highest level of support, and were identified as a Tier 3 school in the previous WSIF cycle.

When a school is identified for tiered support, they are required to conduct a Comprehensive Needs Assessment. They also complete a School Improvement Plan based on the results of the needs assessment and community feedback.

Identified schools remain at their identified tier for a maximum of three years. Schools may petition to exit from a specific tier to a lower tier within a WSIF cycle.

What does the 2023 data on identified schools show?

2023 marks the third WSIF cycle. In the 2023 cycle, 40% of Washington’s public schools were identified for improvement supports. This marks a change of 5.5 percentage points compared to the 2022 cycle, in which 45.5% of schools were identified for improvement supports.

Of the schools identified for improvement supports, 36.6% are identified as Tier 1 schools. That figure comes to 354 public schools, or 14.7% of all public schools across the state.

There was also an increase this year in the number and percentage of schools identified for the highest level of support: Tier 3 Plus. This increase is the result of a federal rule, and comes from including non-Title I, Tier 3 Plus schools in this identification category that were previously identified as Tier 3 schools because of their graduation rates.

WSIF data is available on the Washington State Report Card and the state’s Data Portal.

What supports do identified schools receive?

OSPI partners with schools identified through WSIF to provide flexible, evidence-based supports that correspond to their needs. The Mount Adams School District, for example, changed its schedule to add in time for intervention supports every day, hired educational assistants and reading interventionists, and provided professional development for teachers.

“Every population is different, and … you cannot pick up what’s working in one district and make it work in another district—or even from one school to the next,” said Curt Guaglianone, Superintendent of Mount Adams School District. “It really depends on building that culture where you are, based on the needs of those particular students and staff.”

Depending on the identified level of support, schools have also received school improvement grant funding, district and school leadership support from a Continuous Improvement Partner, and coordinated supports between OSPI and regional educational service districts (ESDs) to support their continuous improvement.

Where can I find additional information?