New student exams, familiar results

  • Wed Sep 1st, 2010 6:23pm
  • News

By Andy Rathbun and Eric Stevick Herald Writers

The new state tests that replaced the controversial WASL delivered a familiar outcome: Passing rates held steady for students across Washington.

Snohomish County students saw some scores inch up and others take a slight dip in reading, writing, math and science, mirroring their peers across the state.

State schools Superintendent Randy Dorn said the results — which generally didn’t plummet or spike — illustrated that the new tests are solid replacements for the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. His office released the results Tuesday.

“By test scores coming out mixed or basically being even, it’s been a real victory,” Dorn said.

The results were greeted with less enthusiasm by some local school officials.

“Are we up or down?” said Terry Edwards, chief academic officer for the Everett School District. “You want to make a story out of the trend, but the reality is it’s a new test, taken a whole different way.”

Dorn scrapped the WASL last spring after its 12-year run.

Third- through eighth-grade students took the Measurements of Student Progress, or MSP. Tenth-graders took the High School Proficiency Exam, or HSPE.

The new exams are shorter than the WASL and taken in one day instead of two.

Statewide passing rates on the new exams showed no clear pattern when compared with WASL results. For instance, third-, seventh- and eighth-graders fared better in reading, but fourth- through sixth-graders saw a dip in the same subject.

The tests are important for high school students. They need to pass reading and writing to graduate. The class of 2013 will need to pass all four subjects.

High school students had a tough time this year in many areas, only showing improvement in science. Math was their worst subject. Statewide passing rates fell from 52 percent to 44.9 percent.

That result was echoed in Snohomish County.

Every district except for Lake Stevens and Sultan saw a decline in math scores. The Granite Falls School District took the biggest hit. Its 10th-grade passing rate declined from 46.2 percent to 34.1 percent.

A shift to a new math curriculum might have hurt the district’s passing rate, Granite Falls Superintendent Karen Koschak said.

As for the new test itself?

“It could have been a factor,” she said. “We haven’t analyzed that close enough to know.”

There were some bright spots in the data. For instance, Lake Stevens High School beat state averages as it improved in math, reading, writing and science. It was the only large public high school in the county to improve in all four subjects.

The state also unveiled the list of schools that the federal government deems in need of improvement.

The list is required by the No Child Left Behind law, and measures “adequate yearly progress,” judging in part if school test scores are climbing or falling.

This year, nearly 46 percent of schools in the state did not meet the goals laid out under federal regulations.

Every Snohomish County district, with the exception of tiny Index, has at least one school on the list.

The federal review looks at overall school performance, and also judges specific segments of the student population. If any single group, such as English language learners or special education students, falls behind, that school makes the list.

The designation affects dollars. Schools receiving Title 1 funding — federal money that benefits low-income schools — have to redirect their money if they land on the list two years in a row.

Six of the Title 1 schools in Marysville are on the watch list. That means $260,000 will need to go toward after-school tutoring at the struggling schools. The money also will pay to bus about 20 students to a school of their choice.

Marysville Superintendent Larry Nyland said putting those conditions on the money can hurt low-income students.

“There’s people everywhere wanting to measure schools for everything, and precious little money being spent on what needs to happen to make it better,” he said.

Like others, Nyland had mixed feelings about the new, shorter tests.

“The number of items may have been less, but the test still took longer than expected,” he said. “Results were supposed to come back quicker; they came back later. I guess that’s to be expected with a new test.”