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Sunnyside schools hold on to most WASL gains

The 2006-07 WASL scores are out for the Sunnyside School District and the good news is that the district held on to most of the gains it made on the previous testing year.

At Sunnyside High School, for example, 74.8 percent of the students passed the writing portion of the WASL. During the 2005-06 testing year 74.8 percent of the students also passed that test, an increase from 35.6 percent from the previous year.

In other high school WASL scores this past year, 68 percent of Sunnyside sophomores passed the reading, 21.5 percent passed the math and 17.4 percent passed the science portions.

Over at Harrison Middle School, gains continued to be made in seventh grade writing, with 54 percent passing that portion of the 2006-07 WASL, a jump from 12 percent the year before. Harrison seventh graders also saw gains in reading (45 percent) and math (28.9 percent).

The one potential trouble spot at Harrison was in eighth grade reading, which dropped from 63.6 percent in 2005-06 to 43.5 percent in 2006-07. Sierra Vista Middle School, which had its first WASL testing in 2006-07, showed 59.3 percent of eighth graders passing the reading portion.

Lori Froese is the assessment director for the Sunnyside School District. She said a one-year decline, or increase for that matter, doesn't necessarily predict a trend.

Froese said it's even more difficult to tell whether there should be concern over the difference between the Sierra Vista and Harrison eighth grade reading scores. "When you only have one year it's too soon to tell if there's a trend," she said. "If there were several years in a row, then that would be different."

District-wide, 42.1 percent of seventh graders passed the reading WASL, 25.9 percent the math portion and 46.8 percent the writing portion. Each of those results are similar or slightly higher than the 2005-06 WASL scores.

Fourth graders in the Sunnyside School District saw wider discrepancies in their scores between the different school buildings.

Washington Elementary saw a dramatic climb in fourth grade writing over 2005-06 (from 43.4 percent passing to 72.8 percent), while Outlook Elementary fourth graders saw their writing WASL scores drop in comparison to 2005-06 (from 56.2 percent to 27.5 percent).

Washington Principal Gwyn Trull said her school's writing scores were helped by having students practice on previous WASL writing tests. She said extra focus was also directed toward punctuation and practicing the day-long process required for the writing WASL.

Froese did note that Outlook has seen its share of changes over the past year or so, with a new administration as well as a fire that temporarily closed a portion of the school building. "It'd be nice if Outlook could have one year where there's not a transition," she said.

Outlook's drop negated a double-digit improvement in fourth grade reading between 2004-05 and 2005-06. It was one of the few gains from 2005-06 that the district was not able to maintain.

Another was over at Pioneer Elementary School. After a huge gain in 2005-06 for fourth grade writing, Pioneer saw a drop in that same area for 2006-07 (from 68.1 percent to 53.7 percent).

District-wide, 64.7 percent of fourth graders passed the reading WASL, 31.9 percent the math portion and 51.8 percent the writing portion. Each figure represents a slight drop from 2005-06.

A continuing area of concern for the district is improving math and science WASL scores compared to state averages.

Statewide, 50 percent of high school sophomores passed the 2006-07 math WASL, compared to 21.3 percent in Sunnyside. In addition, 36 percent of sophomores in Washington state passed the science WASL, compared to 17.2 percent in Sunnyside.

Froese said efforts are underway throughout the entire school district to improve science and math WASL scores.

Math teachers in Sunnyside, for example, are participating in a program provided by the non-profit Teachers Development Group. Froese said the aim is to help teachers prepare for math instruction from a student learning perspective. The program includes monthly mentoring support for math teachers.

In addition, the district has a program in place to help determine which areas of math a student is struggling with in order to provide specific support where most needed.

That's not to say there aren't bright spots in the district related to the math WASL.

Washington Elementary saw its eighth grade math WASL scores improve from 39.5 percent passing in 2005-06 to 62.5 passing this past year's math WASL.

Trull attributed some of the progress to in-service math training for teachers that focused on problem solving. Trull also praised a new math curriculum that enables youngsters to discuss aloud their thinking process as they attempt to solve a problem.

Froese said the district has also gradually implemented a science program for teachers focusing on "inquiry-based science".

She also noted that the state is gradually fine tuning its science portion of the WASL from year to year.

Froese said standardized testing itself has its vagaries.

"It's kind of like if you have a really great day you'd like to think that the rest of the days will be good," she said of test scores. "But you do have bad days."

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