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Washington Voices

Test Scores In; Analysis Begins

Thu., Jan. 11, 1996

It’s time for that annual exercise in frustration known as standardized test scores.

The public celebrates the high scores and bemoans the low ones.

Educators hate that habit.

“What I’d love to do is pull out test scores from some of our local and national leaders. Because, I’m betting they’re not going to be anything remarkable,” said Jim Hammond, principal of East Farms Elementary.

Chester Elementary Principal Dennis Olson knows his phone will stay quiet as long as his test scores stay up. He should have a calm week. In math, Chester fourth-graders scored in the 79th percentile, the highest math score - and the highest score in any subject - in the Spokane Valley.

“Scores go down 10 points, though, and everybody’s calling,” Olson said.

Many educators wish the public would understand that test scores aren’t the be-all, end-all.

“Some of the things that are so ‘un-easy’ to measure are the most important things to us,” Olson said.

“Face it, in your office would you rather work next to something with good social skills or someone who got an A in biology?”

A few educators admit that they bring some confusion on themselves.

“Problem is, if we do poorly, we say they are crummy tests. If we do well, we say we’re doing a good job,” East Farms’ Hammond said.

So, what should the public infer from low test scores?

Educators say low scores come from several ingredients - a class that’s not quite as bright as last year’s, test questions that are out of date, or maybe just a bad day.

“Last year, when our fourth grade scores were high,” said Sharon Mowry, West Valley assistant superintendent, “our principals were telling us that we can’t replicate this (next year).”

Sure enough, West Valley’s fourth grade total battery score dropped nine points from last year’s 60th percentile to the 51st percentile. That means those students scored better than 51 percent and worse than 49 percent of fourth graders nationwide.

“You can’t get the whole of a child on a bubble sheet,” Mowry said. “You just can’t.”

University High School Principal Erik Ohlund saw his students’ scores jump this year. Math went up 12 points to 65, and science rose 13 points to 53.

To Ohlund, low scores should provide “opportunities to grow. But we can’t waste time on discreet facts that a student may not know.”

Do socio-economic differences influence test scores?

Sharon Mowry, West Valley assistant superintendent.

Yes, says Geoff Praeger, testing coordinator for Central Valley School District. “But the level of parents’ education is even more potent.”

What if a school scores well? Can you tell the difference between good teaching and parents’ education? “You can’t. Not in a scientific way.” Praeger said.

“You can use professional judgment, though. Math, for instance, is a very school-centered subject. Kids don’t tend to learn a lot of math outside of school.”

So, math scores would reflect the schools’ work more and parents’ influence less. English and reading skills, on the other hand, would be more influenced by parents.

Then, there’s spelling. Scores are low across the Valley and the region.

Ken Woolf, East Valley Middle School principal, describes spelling this way: It’s “the one big score that everyone in the state is low on…. And there’s no clear answer why.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Valley test scores

Tags: education

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