Test scores: Math still a struggle; science turnout low

There was a new science test in spring 2018. It’s not yet required to graduate, so many didn’t take it.

The Washington State Report Card shows the results of the spring state exams. (OSPI)

The Washington State Report Card shows the results of the spring state exams. (OSPI)

Math remained a struggle. English language arts had a stronger showing. And with science — this past year, at least — it was hard to tell.

Results from state exams taken in the spring were released Sept. 10 by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The math and English tests are graduation requirements for high school students. A new science test this year is not yet required but will be for the class of 2021.

School officials in Snohomish County say the results are one piece of the data they use to see how well students are learning and what can be done better. Other factors such as classroom performance, course grades and attendance also are key.

“We never want to make huge decisions based on one test. That’s not sound,” said Kari Henderson-Burke, executive director of teaching and learning for the Arlington School District. “We compare it with what else we know about kids and learning. We ask ourselves, ‘Is there a discrepancy between what we see in the classroom and what we see on these tests?’”

The spring English and math assessments were computer-based exams that rolled out statewide in 2015. This year, they were taken by high school sophomores and students in third through eighth grade.

The Washington Comprehensive Assessment of Science was given for the first time to students in fifth, eighth and 11th grades. Because it’s not yet required to graduate, many chose not to take the science test.

In state data, those not participating counted as zeros, which skewed results.

For example, only 151 of more than 800 juniors in Snohomish took the exam. State results show that less than 11 percent of juniors met the science standard. But of those who tested, nearly two-thirds passed, said Allison MacGregor Fornes, assessment coordinator for the Snohomish School District.

Schools saw a similar situation when the math test was introduced before it became a requirement.

In Edmonds, as in Snohomish, the rate of students passing science was dragged down by lack of participation. Less than 23 percent met the standard, according to state results. But of the students who took the exam, nearly half passed.

The district is encouraging more students to take the test this spring, said Brandon Lagerquist, director of assessment, research and evaluation.

“We do need to anticipate that it will be a graduation requirement for the class of 2021 and beyond,” he said. “The more that our staff and students can get familiar with that assessment, the more we’re setting ourselves up for success.”

Graduation requirements can be confusing, he said. They’ve been in flux, with legislation implementing some new thresholds but delaying others.

“We try to be as clear as possible with families about what is required at the state level,” Lagerquist said.

There’s a push to improve math scores, which have long been a sticking point.

In two local districts — Snohomish and Northshore — more than half of sophomores passed the math test. Most districts saw between 40 and 50 percent. In Sultan, about one in four sophomores met the standard. In Darrington, it was fewer than one in five.

End-of-course math exams can no longer be used in place of the state test to qualify for graduation. That’s a challenge, Lagerquist said. End-of-course exams were focused on subjects covered during that school year, while the state test may cover multiple years of high school math. The Edmonds district is looking at other options, such as Bridge to College courses, which can be offered to seniors who have not yet passed the state tests. Those who earn a B or better are deemed ready to graduate.

Now that the current math and English tests have been in place for several years, strengths and weaknesses are becoming clear, said Henderson-Burke, in Arlington.

“This year in particular, we have some holes in our math system,” she said. “Our math scores are not where we want them to be.”

In science, though, the district had a notably higher rate of students passing compared with other districts and the state average. Part of that was participation. But Henderson-Burke also credits science programs in Arlington, starting in elementary and middle school.

Countywide, most sophomores did well in English. Every district saw more than half of sophomores pass, and most were at about three-quarters or higher.

Individual scores are sent to students by their schools. Sophomores who did not pass the math or English tests have chances to retake them, or to work on other options, before their senior year.

To see more results from local districts, including those from younger grades, go to http://reportcard.ospi.k12.wa.us.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

Success rates

Percentages of high school students meeting the standard in state tests.

District English (10th grade) Math (10th grade) Science (11th grade)
Arlington 74.1% 43.8% 55.3%
Darrington 56.2% 18.7% 48.2%
Edmonds 74.2% 47.2% 22.9%
Everett 75.2% 42.9% 40.2%
Granite Falls 66.2% 34.3% 29.7%
Lake Stevens 79.1% 45.2% 42.8%
Lakewood 67.8% 40.4% 30.2%
Marysville 60.9% 31.7% 22.4%
Monroe 73.9% 48.0% 22.4%
Mukilteo 73.2% 49.7% 46.9%
Northshore 87.9% 68.2% 48.1%
Snohomish 80.4% 54.3% 10.9%
Stanwood-Camano 76.1% 42.4% 21.4%
Sultan 56.3% 26.6% 39.6%
Statewide 69.5% 40.6% 30.3%

Source: Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction

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