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U-Hi plans appeal of WASL test results

For the second year in a row, University High School has made the list of schools that fail federal standards, because its special education students did not perform well enough on state tests.

In Washington, such failure is noted by a school’s score on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. WASL results from spring 2004 were released Wednesday.

The school district plans to appeal last year’s results.

“Our special ed folks do a wonderful job, but oftentimes the public sees they didn’t make it and they start wondering what they are doing,” said Mike Pearson, superintendent of Central Valley School District, which includes U-Hi. “It’s a huge task they have to try to get all kids to the WASL level.”

Based on the WASL results, three other Spokane Valley schools did not meet “adequate yearly progress” standards – commonly called AYP – under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Making the list for the first time are East Valley Middle School, Central Valley’s North Pines Middle School and one of West Valley School District’s alternative high schools.

The two middle schools made the list due to students’ unexcused absenteeism, and the alternative school because of an apparent paperwork problem.

Some other Valley schools learned Wednesday that they passed this year after failing last year.

The WASL is the state response to the federal law that set the goal of making every student proficient in math and reading by 2014. Each spring, students are tested in math, reading and writing in grades 4, 7 and 10.

While students in the Spokane Valley continued to make gains in all areas of the test, there were a few schools that did not make gains based on the scores of certain subgroups of students, such as special education. Those schools end up on a “watch list” of potentially troubled schools.

In Spokane Public Schools, three schools made the watch list – Glover Middle School, Sacajawea Middle School and North Central High School.

Under the federal law, schools that make the list for two consecutive years – as with U-Hi’s special education program – face possible sanctions. Among the potential penalties for schools receiving federal funding: parents would be offered the chance to take their children out of the school.

The schools have until Sept. 7 to file appeals. Officials at U-Hi, East Valley Middle School and West Valley’s Contract Based Education high school are appealing.

Last year, any category of students with fewer than 30 pupils was not subject to AYP. Under that standard, the special education programs at U-Hi, Central Valley High School and East Valley High School all failed.

This year, the state raised the number to 40 pupils. CV and East Valley fell under that threshold so were kept off the list; U-Hi did not, so was listed again.

At CV High School, for instance, 82 percent of students passed the reading test, up from 73 percent last year, and in math it rose from 53 to 59. The state averages this year were 64 for reading and 44 for math.

But the federal law states that all students must meet the standards, and that includes students in special education programs.

“The state is looking at changing how they are going to allow special needs kids to take the test, and that’s going to help,” said Bill Ash, district assessment coordinator.

The state agreed to allow out-of-level testing for special education students in 2005, meaning that if a 10th-grade student is learning at a fourth-grade level, he will take the fourth-grade test.

West Valley’s Contract Based Education school did not meet state standards for the first time this year, but officials say that doesn’t reflect the truth about the school.

That’s because more than 100 students at the school were reported to the state as being sophomores – and thus required to take the test. However, far fewer students were actually sophomores, based on their completed credits. Nineteen students took the test – but the state recorded about 80 zeroes as a result of the discrepancy, said Polly Crowley, assistant superintendent for instruction.

North Pines and East Valley Middle School failed to reduce their unexcused absence rate by 1 percent, a new section this year listed under the “other indicator” portion of the WASL.

At North Pines, administrators said the staff was implementing a new system before the test last year, which may have not reflected accurate numbers of unexcused absences.

“This is not an accurate representation of what’s happening at our school,” said Shelley Harding, director of student achievement. Other than the middle-school score for absenteeism, Harding said, district officials are happy with the WASL report.

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