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State test results show progress, as well as challenges for local schools

It’s once again report card season for school districts in Washington state.

Like most report cards, the state test scores released last week show some ups and downs for Lower Valley schools.

The school reports are based on results of the Measurements of Student Progress (MSP) state test administered to third through eighth graders and the High School Proficiency Exam (HSPE) given to high school students.

Sunnyside

The Sunnyside scores released by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction show particular strength in end-of-course (EOC) biology. A total of 51 percent of students taking the biology exam met state standards, up from fewer than 40 percent the previous year.

Dr. Rick Cole is superintendent of schools for Sunnyside, and he says the biology scores have more than doubled over the past three years.

Another positive sign is performance of eighth graders on the end of course algebra exams.

“This past year, 160 of the 178 eighth graders who took algebra passed their EOC and fulfilled that graduation requirement before even entering high school,” Cole said. “This can be credited to alignment in math K-12, coupled with effective instructional development and practices being seen at all levels.”

Besides EOC biology, there were other areas where Sunnyside schools made strides, including seventh grade writing.

Those results showed a jump in 2013-14 with 65.6 percent meeting state standards, compared to fewer than 50 percent the previous school year.

The state average is 71.1 percent of seventh graders meeting standards.

Sunnyside schools, however, also demonstrated areas of little or no growth and others with declining scores.

For example reading scores showed little progress from last year. Fourth grade reading scores, in particular, showed a decline from about 60 percent meeting standard on the 2012-13 state tests to 49 percent meeting standard in 2013-14.

Statewide averages show nearly 70 percent of fourth graders meeting reading standards.

Likewise, fourth grade math scores were down, with nearly 41 percent achieving state standards in 2013-14 compared to nearly 60 percent in the previous school year.

Statewide, the average is nearly 61 percent of fourth graders meeting state test standards in math.

Cole says the district is focusing on those areas reflecting flat growth and declining scores. Sunnyside schools will do that, he says, by “…continuing to align our curriculum and provide professional development that supports teacher growth and strengthening instructional practices.”

Cole added, “This year, we will continue implementing the Common Core state standards and will be preparing students for the Smarter Balanced Assessments, which will take place in the spring of 2015.”

He concluded, “We continue to be committed to supporting the success of every student and will continue to adjust our system in support of that vision.”

Grandview

Between slight gains and some significant losses recorded in the Grandview School District’s state testing results, Grandview School Superintendent Keven Chase said his district’s student state standards scores were flat.

He said the Grandview School District showed some pockets of gains, up as much as 5 percent, and some drops in state score results.

“None of the results revealed super big deficits,” he said.

“It was a difficult year as we were teaching both to the Washington State MSP and HSPE standards, but also teaching to the new Common Core standards,” he said.

“We’ve seen some pockets of gains,” Chase said.

One of those areas of gain was in the third grade math scores. Grandview’s third graders are learning math using a concept-based program that is inquiry based, Chase explained

The scores in math reveal that 58.7 percent of Grandview third graders met standards in 2013-14, up from 52.3 percent in 2012-13. The state average is 63 percent of all third grade students meeting the math standard.

However Grandview School District third grade reading scores dropped a few percentage points from 57.8 in 2012-13 to 54 percent of the students meeting standard in 2013-14. The state standard is 72 percent of the students meeting standard.

Meanwhile, Grandview 10th grade reading scores dropped from 70.6 percent of students meeting standard in 2012-13 to 65.4 percent in 2013-14. The state average is 82.6 percent of the students meeting standard.

On a good note, the 10th graders’ writing trends showed a slight increase - 74.6 percent in 2012-13 making standards compared with 74.7 percent passing in 2013-14.

Notable drops in scores were recorded in eighth grade reading and math. The reading scores show 55 percent of Grandview eighth graders meeting standards this past school year, as opposed to 60.3 percent in 2012-13.

Eighth grade math scores also show a drop. In 2012-13, the Grandview eighth graders were on par with the statewide math average of 53.3 percent of students meeting standards. This past year, only 45 percent of eighth graders met math requirements. The state average is 55.8 percent.

Chase said as the MSP and HSPE standards fade away, and the Common Core standards become the norm, the test results will change yet again.

In addition, the Common Core requirements are expected to be even more rigorous than the MSP and the HSPE requirements, he warned.

“Every time we raise the bar regarding student achievement, we also raise expectations,” Chase said.

“We are up for it and it is a good thing for kids,” Chase said. He added that Grandview has been working with the Common Core program for the past three years, in addition to the standards for MSPE and HSPE.

Mabton

The Mabton School District participated in the Smarter Balanced Field Test last year, leaving their test results a little scanty this year.

The district has no overall results in reading, writing or math for third through eighth grades due to the field test of the new adaptive testing system. Tests in other subjects, however, were available to the district.

The Smarter Balanced assessment will align more closely to the Common Core standards and uses computer adaptive testing to pinpoint student strengths and weaknesses while also testing critical thinking skills.

More than 4.2 million students in 21 states participated in the reading, writing and math field tests, which were designed to ensure test questions are accurate and fair for all students. Because the questions may be revised, students did not receive scores on the field test.

There were some highlights for the district in some areas of testing that did not involve the field test. End-of-course biology scores have increased by nearly 14 percent from the previous year, and fifth grade science scores are also up while eighth grade science scores are holding steady.

Reading scores for 10th grade are up by more than 6 percent from the previous year, while writing scores soared from 68.5 percent in 2012-13 meeting standards to 81.2 percent in 2013-14.

The district didn’t do as well in math, trending downward in the percentage of students meeting standards in the Math 1 end-of-course exams. The Math 2 scores show a dramatic drop, mostly due to which students were selected by the state to take those tests.

“Only the students who had failed the algebra test were enrolled in that test,” said Caleb Oten, principal of Mabton Junior Senior High School. “The scores don’t show how our students are actually doing.”

Oten said he’s not satisfied with the test results from last year.

“I’m content, but I could be happier,” he said. “We still have a lot of room to improve.”

Oten said his students saw a slight upswing overall, and he’s keeping track of areas of weakness. He also noted that he expects scores to drop next year when the new Smarter Balanced test is rolled out to all grades.

“It’s a different skill set, taking the new test,” he said. “There will be a learning curve. We’re doing everything we can to get our students ready for it.”

Due to the field test, Mabton has a slight advantage over other districts in that area. Oten said the test was a learning experience for the district.

“I got general scores (from the field test), but they didn’t tell us much,” he said. “They tried to correlate the data to the MSP scores, but it really isn’t detailed.”

Oten said he’s looking forward to using the interim tests available through Smarter Balanced, which will help teachers find weak areas during the school year, hopefully leading to improved final scores on the year-end test. However, the interim testing system is not quite ready yet.

“We’re flying blind this year,” said Oten.

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