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State test scores down for Sunnyside High sophomores

New SHS Principal Chuck Salina has a more difficult job than previously thought, as Sunnyside sophomores for the most part showed dramatic declines in test results released yesterday by the state's superintendent office.

Salina, a Gonzaga University professor, is at Sunnyside High School to raise test scores to the point where 85 percent of students are passing state-mandated reading and writing exams and 100 percent of them graduate high school.

Yesterday's results are from tests called the High School Proficiency Exam (HSPE) that were administered to sophomores in the spring. In all four areas tested, the percentage of Sunnyside sophomores earning a passing score dropped compared to WASL scores from spring 2009.

There were 60 percent of Sunnyside High School sophomores who passed the reading portion of the HSPE, down considerably from the 73 percent who passed the reading WASL the year before.

There was also a sharp drop by sophomores in math, from 21.5 percent passing the math WASL in 2009 to 12.1 passing the math portion of the HSPE. A double-digit drop was also seen in state standard writing scores by SHS sophomores, down from 83.6 percent in 2009 to 74 percent this year.

The closest SHS sophomores came to meeting the same standard they set in 2009 was in science, where 18.4 percent passed the HSPE this year, compared to 19.4 percent last year with the WASL.

"It's hard to tell why those areas went down," said district spokesperson Curtis Campbell. "It could be attributed to the changes in testing."

He added that overall test scores in the district have been on the upswing over the past six years. "We're expecting it will rise next year," Campbell said.

To be fair, students were evaluated on a different series of exams this year compared to the WASL the year before. On average, high school sophomores around the state showed declines, but by much closer margins than their Sunnyside counterparts.

For example, reading scores statewide dropped from 81.2 to 78.8 percent and writing from 86.7 to 85.9. Those passing state-mandated math exams fell from 45.4 to 41.6 percent. There was a gain, on average in Washington, as statewide 44.7 percent passed the science portion of the HSPE compared to 38.8 percent passing the science WASL last year.

Though students faced a different test this year, the HSPE was designed to be more streamlined and taken on-line, with the aim of making it easier for students to follow than the WASL before it.

Randy Dorn is the Superintendent for Public Instruction in the state of Washington, and he wasn't surprised by the uneven performances in school districts around the state.

Dorn said he expected mixed results with the introduction of new state tests and online testing. However, he said the results also reflect two straight years of cuts to the K-12 education budget as many services, such as after-school and summer-school programs intended to assist the most challenging students, have been cut or eliminated.

Incoming 10th graders in the class of 2013 will be required to pass all state exams - reading, writing, math and science - to be eligible for a diploma. Last November, Dorn pushed for changes to the math requirement through the class of 2015 and a delay in the science requirement until the class of 2017. However, the Legislature opted not to act upon his proposal.

"If you look at the math and science results, the Legislature is going to have a real issue in front of them," Dorn said. "I already forwarded them my solutions."

Dorn said he will continue to seek changes, including the option for students in the class of 2013 and beyond to earn a fourth math credit to meet the math graduation requirement. Currently, students through the class of 2012 can earn two credits of math after 10th grade as an alternative to passing an exam.

"Giving students another alternative in math is the right thing to do," he said. "The credit option has proved to be a successful route."

The other set of test scores unveiled yesterday was for Measurements of Student Progress (MSP), a standardized exam for third through eighth graders administered this past spring instead of the WASL.

The MSP brought good news for Sunnyside elementary and middle school students, especially in math as all but eighth graders made gains.

"Overall we're pleased to see math rising, but we're still not where we want it to be," Campbell said.

By far the greatest gain in the Sunnyside School District was in seventh grade math, which more than doubled the score from 2009. There were 21.8 percent who passed the math WASL in 2009, compared to a whopping 45.8 percent who passed the math MSP this year.

Sunnyside seventh graders also made slight gains in the writing area, with passing scores improving from 47.3 to 48.8 percent.

Sunnyside third graders showed progress this year, as 51.5 percent passed the reading portion and 43.6 the math portion of the MSP. That's compared to scores of 46.5 and 37.6 percent, respectively, from the 2009 WASL.

Fourth graders also made gains in math, as 39.1 percent of them passed the MSP's math portion, compared to 31.4 percent last year taking the math WASL.

Sixth graders saw their math scores improve as 31.4 percent passed that portion of the MSP this year compared to 25.7 percent of the 2009 WASL. Math scores were also on the rise for fifth graders, as 46 percent passed this year's state test compared to 39.8 percent last year.

All of the other scores for third through eighth graders, though, were down this year compared to 2009.

By far the most dramatic setback in Sunnyside was in sixth grade reading scores, as more than half (55.1 percent) passed the 2009 reading WASL, while less than 40 percent (38.7) were able to pass the MSP's reading portion.

Similarly, the majority of Sunnyside fourth graders passed the reading and writing WASL last year (59.3 and 55.1 percent), only to see those gains wiped out in the 2010 MSP as only 43.3 percent passed the reading portion and 48.6 percent passed the writing portion this past spring.

The number of fifth graders passing the reading portion of the MSP exam dipped under 50 percent, to 49.9 percent. That's in comparison to 56.9 percent who passed the reading WASL in 2009.

Other than high school sophomores, eighth graders were the only ones tested in all four categories in both 2009 and 2010. They, too, showed drops in all four categories, as 60.2 percent of Sunnyside eighth graders passed the reading portion of the MSP this year, compared to 73 percent who passed the WASL last year.

Eighth graders also saw drops in math (12.1 percent compared to 21.5 percent in 2009), writing (83.6 percent compared to 74 percent) and science (19.4 percent to 18.4 percent).

The results released yesterday also included high school graduation rates.

Sunnyside High School made progress in its graduation rate this year, but still has work to do to reach the 60 percent threshold needed to make adequate yearly progress.

According to the data released yesterday, 55.3 percent of SHS seniors graduated this year compared to 51.8 in 2009.

The biggest gain in high school graduation was among special education students, as 46.6 percent of them graduated in 2010 compared to 35.3 the year before. Also, 53.3 percent of SHS's Hispanic seniors graduated this year compared to 49 percent the year before. SHS also made slight progress in the number of white students graduating from 62.8 to 63.3 percent.

There were areas of decline in graduation rates at SHS, most notably among students with limited English skills, from 27.5 to 16 percent. There was also a decline for students from low income families, as 58.2 percent graduated in 2009 compared to 50.1 percent in 2010.

The combination of low test scores (see related stories) and low graduation rates means that the Sunnyside School District did not make adequate yearly progress. Also known as AYP, it is a standard mandated by federal legislation called the No Child Left Behind Act.

Sunnyside is in Step 2 of not meeting AYP, and parents in the district have a couple of options, including free tutoring for their children through the Sunnyside School District.

The other option is the choice to send their children to a school district that is making adequate yearly progress. That may not be easy, though, because barely 50 percent of the school districts in the state are making adequate yearly progress.

The nearest public school district making adequate yearly progress is Bickleton.

Dorn thinks the way adequate yearly progress is measured in this state is, well, inadequate.

"Our state has high standards, and we do well on national testing, but by 2014 we will have every school in the state not making AYP," Dorn said. "That's completely unrealistic."

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