The Representative Assembly will vote in January on approving sweeping changes to state classifications.
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association could bring major changes next year to how the state’s classifications are formed.
Included in those changes would be using a school’s free or reduced lunch count as a factor in which classification it will play.
The WIAA is also considering dropping its current system of classifications, which is based on percentage, and returning to basing classifications on a ladder set by fixed enrollment numbers.
These changes will be voted on by the WIAA’s Representative Assembly, a 53-person body made up of members from across the state, in January. If approved, the changes would go into effect for the 2019-20 school year.
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Several states, including Oregon, Ohio and Minnesota, have added a “modifier” to classifications based on economic factors. WIAA assistant executive director John Miller said many more state associations are considering similar proposals. Miller and the WIAA’s classification committee studied several states that made a similar change.
“None of them said ‘We made a mistake,’ ” Miller said. “None of them felt that (adding a) socio-economic (component) was the wrong thing to do.”
The change is meant to level a playing field that sees affluent communities, with more resources to draw upon for athletic programs, consistently achieve more success than poorer communities that often see less turnout for high-school athletics.
Under the proposal, schools with a free or reduced lunch count that is 10-percent higher than the statewide average (which Miller said is 43 percent) would see a 10-percent reduction of their enrollment number. Schools 20 to 29 percent would get a 20-percent reduction; 30 to 39 percent would get a 30-percent reduction and it caps with schools at 40 percent and above getting a 40-percent reduction.
It also goes the other way as schools with a free and reduced lunch count 10 to 19 percent below the state average would see a 10-percent addition to their enrollment number. It maxes out at 30 percent below the state average adding a 30-percent increase to enrollment numbers.
The new plan also calls for private schools to have an automatic 30-percent increase on their enrollment number.
Classification numbers are determined from a count of students in grades 9-11 and come from the Office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Classifications are adjusted every four years.
The classification committee applied the format to the current enrollment numbers to see what impact it would have made had it been applied before the current enrollment cycle.
“This just makes so much more sense than what we’ve been doing,” Miller said.
The Representative Assembly voted in 2004 to switch from fixed numbers to determine classifications to a percentage format (17 percent of the state’s high schools in each classification) in an effort to balance the classifications. At the time, the 4A classification had about 90 schools while 2A had about 50, making it almost twice as hard for a 4A team to reach a state tournament than a 2A school.
The new classifications would break down as: 1,300+ for 4A, 900-1,299 for 3A, 450-899 for 2A; 225-449 for 1A; 112-224 for 2B and 1-111 for 1B.
The WIAA’s Executive Board voted Sunday to approve a plan, which would only go into effect if the classification proposal is passed, to fix the impact imbalanced classifications would have on qualifying for state tournaments.
The new plan would base state tournament fields on classification size rather than the 16-team format it has used for decades. Classifications with 85 schools and above would have a state tournament field of 24 teams, 69-84 would have 20 teams, 53-68 would be 16 teams, 37-52 teams 12 teams, 20-36 would have eight teams and 19 or less would combine with a different classification.
This would mean there are some details, especially for the state football and basketball tournaments, that still need to be worked out.
Miller said the changes were presented at a conference of athletic directors from across the state in late April in Spokane, and there “was no dissent.”