High school sophomores throughout the state showed marked improvement on the writing portion of the 2005-06 WASL.
But few, if any, showed the kind of growth seen in Sunnyside sophomores during the 2005-06 school year.
According to figures released last Friday, 71.6 percent of Sunnyside sophomores passed the writing test this past spring, more than double the 33.4 percent who passed it in 2004-05.
The 38.2 percent gain is also more than double the 14 percent average of improvement across the state.
"We have had a focused literacy effort at the high school for the past three years on English and writing," said Sunnyside High School Principal Brian Hart. He also attributed the surge to having a full time literacy coach available at the high school.
In addition, Hart said the sophomore scores-which show improvement in all areas over 2004-05-is the result of teacher collaboration and hard work by both students and staff.
Sunnyside tenth graders passing the WASL reading test jumped from 50.7 percent in 2004-05 to 69.9 this year. Sophomore math scores rose from 21.2 to 25.5 percent and those passing the science portion increased from 11.6 to 15.3 percent.
Lori Froese, assessment coordinator for the district, said the across-the-board increases for local sophomores were also a statewide trend. "There are slight increases in math and science across the state," she said.
Yet Sunnyside sophomores still tended to see larger increases than the state trends, especially in reading, which jumped nearly 20 percent in one year.
Hart attributed the reading success to a focus on teaching reading across all subject areas.
"It was a team effort by everybody," he said.
Superintendent Dr. Rick Cole said sophomores showed great improvement, in part, because their class-the class of 2008-is the first required to pass the reading, writing and math portions of the WASL in order to graduate.
The science WASL must also be passed, beginning with the class of 2010.
Cole believes Sunnyside's science scores will increase beyond the current 16.3 percent success rate as 2010 draws nearer.
Noting that emphasis had to be given to math, reading and writing because of the class requirements for 2008, Cole said science scores will rise as the district focuses more on that subject. In addition, he said a move to more hands-on activities related to science learning should help the scores.
Reading scores for Sunnyside seventh graders fell slightly from 44 percent in 2004-05, to 43.3 in 2005-06. Still, even that bucks a statewide trend that saw seventh grade WASL reading scores fall by 7 percent.
The most noticeable change is in writing, as Sunnyside seventh graders showed growth from 32.1 to 42 percent.
There is also a small decline in math, from 27.7 to 25.1 percent, which also reflects a state trend, according to Froese.
Cole noted the declines are not substantial and likely represent a plateau for seventh graders after three years of rising WASL scores.
Cole attributed some of the declines in fourth and seventh grade math scores to the district's preparations in moving students between buildings throughout the district.
With a second middle school, Sierra Vista, and Chief Kamiakin Elementary switching to kindergarten through fifth grades, Cole said the changes have led to many students starting the new school year in a different building.
"Sometimes when schools go through all the changes, there are impacts," says Cole. "The transition and moving has caused us to be a little unsettled."
Math declines represent not just a local or state trend, officials say, but it extends nationally.
"The struggle to improve mathematics achievement is a national phenomenon that is drawing increasing attention," said Terry Bergeson, state superintendent of education.
Fourth grade WASL results
The grade experiencing the biggest decline in math for Sunnyside was fourth grade, which saw a decrease from 46.2 percent in 2004-05 passing the test to 35.9 percent this past year.
A factor in that decline, said Cole, is a new approach in teaching math.
"What's happening in fourth grade math right now is that the curriculum is not aligned with the WASL, " Cole said of the need for math instruction that is geared to meeting a test standard.
"We are in essence changing our math curriculum," he said.
Cole said the old-school math test that just asked for the right answer is no longer the case in a WASL world.
"Before you were judged on your answer," he explained. "Now you have to get the right answer, and then explain in writing how you got the answer. It requires a move from just calculating to explaining the math."
At the same time, fourth graders, too, have made progress on the reading and writing WASL tests.
In reading, 67.9 percent of Sunnyside fourth graders passed the WASL during the 2004-05 school year, while for 2005-06 70.6 percent of fourth graders passed that portion of the WASL.
Mirroring seventh and tenth grades, fourth graders also had double digit growth in writing, improving from 43.7 to 54.8 percent.
New grades tested
The 2005-06 school year marked the first time that students in the third, fifth, sixth and eighth grades were required to take the WASL.
The move was mandated by the state in its response to the federal No Child Left Behind legislation.
In third grade 53.4 percent of the Sunnyside students passed the reading and 38.4 passed the math portion of the WASL.
Sunnyside fifth graders saw 61.3 percent of their classmates pass the reading WASL and 26.9 the math test.
Sixth grade reading results showed 43.3 percent passing. A total of 18.9 percent passed the math WASL.
WASL reading results for Sunnyside eighth graders showed 63.6 percent passing that portion of the test. In addition, 27.4 percent of the class passed the math test.
There were two classes, fifth and eighth grades, who had previously taken the science portion of the WASL. Both demonstrated improvement over 2004-05, as fifth grade students improved from 8.4 percent to 12 percent and eighth graders improved from 11.2 to 15.1 percent.
Cole said Sunnyside schools are not held accountable for the results from these classes as it was the first year for them to take the entire WASL. He added that the district will be held accountable when the WASL results are received following this school year.
So what do the largely positive WASL scores mean for the Sunnyside School District?
Well, for one building in the district-Outlook Elementary School-it means it is no longer on "focused assistance," a step the state takes to address the needs of schools not meeting WASL standards.
With Outlook's improvement there are two schools in the district remaining on focused assistance, Sunnyside High School and PRIDE High School.
Under the focused assistance status, schools receive funding for a school improvement coach. If a school continues to not show improvement the federal government could turn the school's operations over to the state.
That's a worst case scenario, Cole said, and one the district is in no danger of seeing.
"We're really pleased," Cole said. "Our goal is to get everybody off of focused assistance."
In order to leave focused assistance, Cole said a school must show two consecutive years of adequate yearly progress.
Based on sophomores' 2005-06 results, Sunnyside High School may have an opportunity to leave focused assistance next year, pending the outcome of 2006-07 WASL scores.
"We were very close this year," Hart said of removing the focused assistance status. "We're excited but we want to continue to do better."
To help the high school's staff along in that improvement, Hart said they will have scheduled professional development twice a month, rather than every six weeks as before, to help focus on improving WASL scores.
"It helps us to continue to do well," Hart said. "We are pleased by the success, but we still have more to do."