Little change in schools’ Iowa test scores

  • Melissa Slager<br>For the Enterprise
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 6:55am

Scores from the last Iowa Test of Educational Development given to the state’s ninth-graders were released last week, and the results were about as predictable as its bell-shaped curve.

Most Snohomish County schools again scored above the national norm, with few showing any significant change from previous years.

Lawmakers this year voted to toss the Iowa tests, which also included the Iowa Test of Basic Skills given to third- and sixth-graders, so schools can instead focus on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. Test results for the younger grades were released earlier.

Comparing students to a standard instead of to each other has been the trend in testing for more than a decade, and state and federal laws now look to the WASL to see if required achievement gains are made.

“The pressure for us is WASL. So that really becomes the thing that encumbers us the most,” said Alan Weiss, Edmonds-Woodway High School principal.

Since the Iowa test first was given statewide in 2000 – although some school districts have used them for decades – scores have changed little, if at all.

The basic skills test compares students to a nationally averaged group from 1995. Schools are then ranked, with scores reported by percentile. For example, if a school has a percentile rank of 57, it did better than 57 percent of schools in the 1995 baseline group. The 50th percentile is the national average.

Statewide, ninth-graders fell in the 54th percentile in reading, the same as five years ago, and the 61st percentile in math, up one point from 1999-2000. Racial gaps also remain; the largest this year is between whites and Hispanics in reading, at percentiles of 60 and 29, respectively.

Local schools follow state trends. Four high schools performed below the norm for reading – Darrington, Granite Falls, Lynnwood and Mariner. At the district level, only Granite Falls performed below the national average overall, besting 49 percent of schools.

As more attention was given to the WASL tests, the Iowa tests were becoming an afterthought.

Tevin Gooden, 15, said he didn’t worry about the Iowa test last spring as a Lakewood High School freshman. But the WASL is a different story. Tevin is part of the first class that must pass that state test to graduate.

“I’ll be nervous,” said Tevin, who is taking a class this summer to help him prepare. “If I make the slightest mistake, I don’t want it to affect my results.”

The WASL is a more comprehensive test, requiring students to write out their answers to many questions, for example. The Iowa test is multiple choice.

In that way, the WASL is a better tool for preparing students for life after high school, said Cindy Clauson, Marysville School District’s director of student achievement. Still, it’s a significant shift from the Iowa tests, which have been used in Washington schools for decades.

“Being a parent and a person who was raised on the Iowa tests, we’re more comfortable with it because we know it, and we’re used to it,” Clauson said. “We’re all learning together.”

Melissa Slager is a writer with The Herald in Everett.

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