Don’t get Tom Moore wrong. The Ness Elementary principal really is excited about the improvements in standardized test scores at his school.
He’s just not jumping out of his chair.
“We’ll take the pats on the back,” Moore said. “But on the other hand, I’m not going to go out and start waving the banners and screaming and yelling we’re doing something different here.”
Most West Valley School District fourth-graders increased all of their average scores on the standardized test administered in October to Washington state students. The only score that dropped was Pasadena Park Elementary’s science score, which fell three points to the 61st percentile.
Washington public schools are required to test students in grades 4, 8 and 11 annually with state-selected multiple-choice achievement tests.
Average test scores of schools in the Central Valley School District stayed flat in the fourth grade and fell slightly in eighth and 11th grade.
Scores in the East Valley School District fell significantly on the fourth grade level, increased slightly in eighth grade and stayed about even in 11th grade.
Freeman School District scores dropped in the fourth grade, increased dramatically in the eighth grade and fell slightly in the 11th grade.
In the West Valley School District, the big story was Ness. Although most of its scores are still below Pasadena Park and Orchard Center Elementary, Ness’ scores in all subjects increased between 11 and 21 points. Ness’ science score was the best in the school district, at the 66th percentile.
That means that only 34 percent of the nation’s fourth-graders scored better than the average Ness fourth-grader.
Moore said he was more concerned about increases over three or four years than a one-year jump. Ness’ scores have steadily increased for the past few years.
“The scores fluctuate tremendously from year to year, based on the kids you have,” Moore said.
Widespread curriculum changes in the district over the past five years have increased test scores, he said.
“Our test scores are probably rising more due to our emphasis on literacy skills,” Moore said. “Children are reading the tests better and understand the tests better.”
On the eighth-grade level in the West Valley School District, Centennial Middle School’s scores dropped between two and five points, except for science scores, which increased by three points.
All scores at West Valley High School increased between three and eight points.
Central Valley School District scores are average or above, Superintendent Dick Sovde said. The school district plans to focus on why scores dropped at University High School, he said.
“The test scores are a reflection of a portion of the school district’s programs,” Sovde said. “They do not describe the performance of the district as a whole. They describe the performance of a particular group of kids at a particular time.”
On the elementary level, Ponderosa’s scores dropped between six and 14 points, although the school still scored in the top third of Central Valley elementary schools. University’s scores dropped between four and 18 points. South Pines dropped between four and 17 points, and Keystone’s scores dropped between two and 14 points.
Scores went in the other direction at some Central Valley schools. Greenacres Elementary jumped in all subjects between nine and 18 points, except for its science score, which stayed flat.
Sunrise increased its scores by five to 13 points, except for science, which stayed at the 64th percentile. Progress increased all its scores between six and 15 points.
Despite elementary drops, the Freeman fourth-grade reading average was the highest for districts countywide for the second year in a row. But the district’s “total battery” score dropped by six points to the 59th percentile.
Freeman eighth-graders increased their total battery score by nine points to the 74th percentile, meaning that the middle school ranked the highest in the county. Freeman 11th-graders ranked in the top third of the county districts in math, history and language arts.
“Of course we are excited when we see Freeman’s name in the paper and Freeman’s name at the top of the list,” high school Principal Dennis Schuerman said. “We know we test all of our kids. We feel good about it. It’s the second year back-to-back.”
In the East Valley School District, the only elementary school to increase any fourth-grade scores was Skyview Elementary, where scores in social studies, science and math jumped between five and 10 points.
“We did a little better than we did last year,” Skyview Principal Harold Weakland said. “That’s what’s important - what direction we’re going in.”
Test score comparisons between Skyview and other elementary schools aren’t valid, he said. Comparisons from year to year at Skyview are more important.
“I looked at some of the data,” Weakland said. “We were one of the highest schools in the district for parents reading to children. Family concern about education and a willingness to work with children is going to pay benefits.”
Scores can drop or increase if the student population moves a lot or changes, he added.
Elsewhere in the East Valley School District, East Farms’ scores dropped between 13 and 21 points. Trent’s scores dropped between 14 and 22 points. Last year, Trent scored the highest in science and social studies. This year, the school was at the bottom in science and second to the bottom in social studies.
“Obviously I agree that we dipped,” East Farms Principal Jim Hammond said. “It’s a shame that’s the only way you can judge a school in terms of obvious definitive matters.”
East Farms filled a blackboard with everything taught at the school and circled those subjects on the standardized test, Hammond said. The amount tested was a minor part of the subjects taught.
“With regard to our own scores, we have some students who just fill in the dots,” he said. “They just refuse to make any effort, or they’re students with learning disabilities.
“Last year the scores went up dramatically because we pulled those tests. It goes to show you that you can look very good or very bad, just by pulling tests.”
State law permits schools to exclude students from the tests if they are disruptive, refuse to take the tests or are in special-education classes.
This year, East Farms didn’t pull tests, Hammond said.
“Probably that one factor is the main factor” in the drop in test scores, he said. “Leaving everybody in whether they’re capable or not, whether they tried or not.”