The easy part is over.
Now it gets tough.
Most public schools in Spokane County saw improvements in their scores on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning tests. It was the second year of steady improvement for many districts on the test, which is the high-stakes assessment tied to federal education reforms. The WASL, as most refer to it, has been driving a lot of changes in area classrooms.
The percentage of Spokane Public Schools seventh-graders who passed the reading portion of the test jumped 10 percent to 57 percent in one year, which makes it the district’s biggest improvement on the test. Most other scores stayed consistent or crept up a little.
“Our big jump in scores at Spokane Public Schools came a year ago,” said associate superintendent Nancy Stowell.
“It looks a little to me like we’re starting to plateau,” Stowell said.
Reaching that last batch of students who struggle with the test will be the toughest challenge yet, she said.
For educators, the release of WASL scores has always been a potent moment. The scores show how schools match up to others, and more importantly, it illustrates whether scores have improved from the previous year.
The requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act require all schools, school districts and states to set goals leading up to 2014, when all children are expected to be proficient in reading and math. In Washington, those goals are measured by the WASL. This year’s freshman class will be required to pass the WASL as part of their new graduation requirements.
“What the scores are telling us is we have to be clearer about the curriculum we are teaching,” Stowell said.
For most schools, the test scores point to areas where they should focus on improvement. For schools in impoverished areas, however, the stakes are much higher. The highest stakes at Spokane Public Schools were reserved for schools that receive federal funding known as Title 1 schools. Last year two of Spokane’s Title 1 schools did not meet minimum standards for the percentage of students passing the test. Those standards are called Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP.
Grant Elementary and Shaw Middle School were confronted with the possibility of not making AYP in two consecutive years, which would have triggered a series of costly changes. Namely, the schools would have had to fund the transportation costs of sending students to other schools, if they wanted to leave.
Both Grant and Shaw passed the standards test this year.
“We’re pretty elated,” said Christine Lynch, principal at Shaw. “We’re going to do a little celebration first thing in the morning.”
Brian Benzel, superintendent of Spokane Public Schools, will visit the school to give the staff kudos and encourage them to keep it up, Lynch said.
“It’s a journey and we have a lot of difficult work to do,” Lynch said.
Across the state, the most dramatic changes were reported in the seventh grade, with a 12-point gain in reading and nearly a 10-point gain in mathematics. Spokane Valley seventh-graders were no exception.
Central Valley seventh-graders excelled in all areas, with more than 60 percent meeting state standards in reading.
Students at West Valley’s Seth Woodard Elementary School were celebrating the fact that 100 percent of students passed the reading test, well above the state average of 74 percent. Last year, 88 percent of the Seth Woodard fourth-graders met state standards.
“That’s as good as it gets,” said Polly Crowley, assistant superintendent for instruction at West Valley.
West Valley’s poorest school, Orchard Center Elementary, also made significant gains, with 73 percent meeting state standards in math, up from 55 percent last year. In reading, students went up from 61 percent to 76 percent.
“That’s a significant gain for that school. We’re extremely proud,” Crowley said. “They worked really hard this year.”
East Valley elementary schools making significant gains include East Farms and Otis Orchards elementary schools.
Central Valley High School students made gains in all subjects, with 82 percent of 10th-graders passing reading, up from 73 percent last year, and 59 percent meeting standards in math, up from 53 percent.
“We’re comfortable with those scores,” said Mike Pearson, district superintendent. “As long as we can stay steady we are in good shape.”
University High School maintained its math scores at 54 percent, but went up by nearly 10 percentage points in reading. U-Hi students dropped slightly in writing, a trend that was echoed across the district.
In the West Valley School District, students at all the schools declined in writing, except at Orchard Center, where fourth-grade students went from 45 percent passing to 48 percent.