Issaquah schools showed mixed testing results

October 5, 2010

By Laura Geggel

Last spring, thousands of Issaquah students took either the Measurement of Student Progress or the High School Proficiency Exam. Their results were as mixed as their peers from across the state.

“There’s no real perfect pattern,” Issaquah School District Assessment Director Sharon Manion said. “We have some schools up and some schools down in almost every category.”

Both the HSPE and the MSP had fewer questions than their predecessor, the Washington Assessment of Student Learning exam, known as the WASL. But fewer questions on the new tests caused each one to count more.

“It’s just like any other test the kids might take in the classroom,” Manion said. “When there’s 100 points on a test, the kids might miss some and still do well. When there is 20 points on the test, the kids can’t miss as many.”

Previously, students had two days to take each subject on the WASL. Except for writing, still two days, students had one day to take the math, reading and science MSP and HSPE.

Next year, the reading section of the MSP and HSPE will be shorter, State Superintendent Randy Dorn said. Some elementary school students taking the 2010 MSP took longer than state officials predicted it would.

“A lot of buildings around the state, including some in our district, had kids who were crying, who were upset,” Manion said. “Two to two and a half hours is a long time for a third-grader to take a test with just a short break.”

The state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction is analyzing test results to see if fatigue affected student performance by seeing if students missed more questions at the end of the test, Manion said.

Measurements of Student Progress

The MSP tested students in third through eighth grades in two subjects — reading and math. Some grades had additional testing, including writing in fourth and seventh grades and science in fifth and eighth grades.

Overall, seventh-graders did better when compared to the 2009 test, and fifth-graders performed worse.

Statewide, reading scores increased in third, seventh and eighth grades and decreased in fourth, fifth and sixth grades, compared to 2009 results.

Issaquah’s students followed that trend, with the percentage meeting standard hitting about 87 percent in third grade, 81 percent in fourth grade, 85 percent in fifth grade,

80 percent in sixth grade, 79 percent in seventh grade and 82 percent in eighth grade.

“Our district went down, not as much as the state,” Manion said. “When the state dips, we dip, too, but not as severely.”

State and Issaquah writing scores increased in fourth and seventh grades.

Statewide science showed different results, with fifth-grade scores decreasing and eighth-grade scores increasing. In Issaquah, both fifth- and eighth-grade science scores decreased.

The 2010 math MSP exam tested new standards, making comparisons between it and the 2009 math WASL not as compatible. Still, this year’s math scores count for the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Except for fourth and seventh grade, 2010 math scores went down when compared to 2009 scores. About 84 percent of third-graders met standard; 83 percent of fourth-graders; 76 percent of fifth- and sixth-graders; 83 percent of seventh-graders and 74 percent of eighth-graders.

High School Proficiency Exam

At Issaquah, Liberty, Skyline and Tiger Mountain Community high schools, last year’s sophomores scored well on reading and writing, with about 92 percent and 95 percent passing, respectively. About 71 percent of sophomores met standard in math and about 70 percent met standard in science.

These numbers are about 1 percent to 2 percent lower than they were in 2008-09, except for science, which increased about 4 percent from 66 percent in 2008-09.

The district is moving forward with several curriculum changes that could help students master the test. District administrators are focusing on an elementary school reading, literacy and science adoption, Manion said.

Secondary students in sixth through 12th grade will have a new STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — focus, receiving new science inquiry kits, Associate Superintendent Ron Thiele said.

“Our middle school science scores are among the very best in the state,” he said, with the state average at 54 percent and Issaquah’s at 79 percent for eighth-grade science.

Thiele added that high school students who are struggling in math could take a “double dose” of math and register for a supplemental math class.

Executive Director of Secondary Education Patrick Murphy added that the district tests children a variety of other ways, including the Stanford Achievement Test, the SAT, ACT and AP exams.

Dorn blamed the declining scores on decreased state funding for education, which can translate into larger class sizes and fewer school programs.

“Washington needs to recommit to education, and it’s not just me saying that, it’s the courts,” Dorn said. “We are facing a serious budget crisis in this state, but if we continue to cut education, the progress we’ve previously made will disappear. The state’s paramount constitutional duty is to fund education, and as long as I’m in this job, I’ll remind the governor and the Legislature of that every day.”

Changes ahead

State testing has never mattered more to this year’s sophomores, who will be required to pass state exams in reading, writing, math and science to graduate with their 2013 diploma.

Dorn had asked the state Legislature to delay the math requirement until 2015 and the science requirement until 2017, but the Legislature declined to change the dates.

The math assessment is changing this spring. Instead of testing math on the HSPE, state administrators will offer end-of-course math exams in algebra I and geometry, or equivalent math classes. Students graduating in 2013 and beyond must pass both end-of-course exams to meet the state math graduation requirement.

The end-of-course change requires students to take the tests, regardless of grade level.

“Middle school students in these courses will also take the MSP for their grade level to meet federal requirements,” Manion wrote in an e-mail. “Their scores will be banked until they are 10th graders.”

Students graduating in 2012 who did not pass the HSPE can either earn two credits of math after 10th grade or pass one of the end-of-course exams to be eligible to graduate, according to a news release from the OSPI.

Schools not meeting standard

The state takes the MSP and HSPE scores and applies them to the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Every three years, the benchmarks for number of students meeting standard increases. The benchmarks increase this year, asking at least 80 percent of students to meet standard, depending on the subject.

All schools must have 100 percent of students meeting standard by 2014.

Meeting standard can be hard for any child, but especially one with special needs or English language learners.

“Think of a special-education student who is struggling academically,” Manion said. “We’re not going to have 88 percent of our special-education kids or our ELL kids even be able to read the test. That is the issue.”

Using data from the state tests, the OSPI sees if enough students are meeting standard in reading and math. The OSPI looks at students in subgroups based on race and ethnicity, economic level, English language learners and students with disabilities.

The standardized test scores are divided into 37 subgroups for schools and 111 subgroups for school districts. If a subgroup of students fails in reading or math, then the school or district does not meet Adequate Yearly Progress.

To meet AYP, schools and districts must also meet a number of other factors, including a certain on-time graduation rate and unexcused absence rate.

The schools that did not meet AYP in 2010 include:

  • Briarwood Elementary: low-income reading
  • Grand Ridge Elementary: special-education reading and math
  • Issaquah Valley: low-income reading
  • Beaver Lake Middle: special-education math
  • Issaquah Middle: low-income math
  • Issaquah High: special-education math
  • Liberty High: special-education and low-income math

The district also didn’t meet standards in elementary school low-income reading and math.

Issaquah Valley Elementary did not meet AYP for the second consecutive year in low-income reading. Because IVE receives federal Title I dollars for its low-income students, it faces sanctions for not meeting AYP.

In the sanctions leveled against Issaquah Valley, the school notified parents, gave families the opportunity to send their children to another elementary school and paid for that transportation.

It’s the first sanction that any school in the district has received since No Child Left Behind went into effect in 2003.

Two families whose children already attended Clark Elementary School applied to switch schools, meaning that the district has to pay for their transportation, Issaquah Valley Elementary School Principal Diane Holt said.

She praised her teachers and students for doing well on the MSP. In third grade, 91 percent of students met standard in reading and 88 percent met standard in math. Other schools have similar success stories, but those not meeting standard in a specific subgroup will have to concentrate on meeting the new AYP benchmarks, especially for their struggling learners.

Issaquah Valley Elementary School may have increased the number of students meeting standard, but it was not enough to make AYP, Manion said.

“Some kids just need more time to learn,” she said.

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