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WASL scores edge up

Most students who took the Washington Assessment of Student Learning this year made modest gains, but results released Thursday show mixed progress on the high-stakes exam.

In Spokane, 80 percent of fourth-graders passed the reading test, compared with 82 percent last year. Fifth-grade reading scores dropped to 71 percent passing, compared with 77 percent last year.

Seventh-graders made the most noticeable gains, especially in reading with 68.5 percent passing statewide, compared with 61.5 percent in 2006.

Spokane’s seventh-graders rose from 58 percent passing to 64 percent passing this year.

Last year, seventh-grade scores for most school districts dropped significantly, some falling by 10 percentage points.

“Our seventh-graders have the highest number meeting standard since we started testing them in 1998,” said Nancy Stowell, Spokane Public Schools superintendent.

This is the 10th year the controversial test has been administered to students, and the first year that schools and districts had data to compare in reading and math for students in grades 3, 5, 6, and 8. In the past, only students in grades 4, 7 and 10 took the exam in reading, writing and math.

“We have so many grade levels to look at now,” said Millie Hill, director of assessment and curriculum for the Mead School District.

“It was much easier when we could comment on just three grades.”

Hill said Mead’s third-graders did very well in reading, as did seventh-graders. But 10th-grade reading went down slightly, as did math.

Across the board, math scores were disappointing. Many schools poured more money into mathematics and science teaching this year in an effort to boost scores for students.

“We’ve put in new programs; we’re providing more professional development for teachers, and we are developing our own district assessment so we don’t wait for WASL,” Stowell said.

Fewer Spokane 10th-graders met standard in math, with 48 percent passing, down from 52 percent last year.

While passing the math portion of the test is no longer a graduation requirement, schools are still watching closely the results for high school students.

Reading and writing tests are still required for graduation, starting with this fall’s seniors.

The Legislature this year delayed the math requirement until 2012.

Results show more students in the class of 2008, who have had at least five chances to pass, are on track to receive a diploma in June.

During a news conference on the state’s public affairs network, Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson said scores for students who have taken the WASL show more than 92 percent passing reading and writing, but just 67 percent have passed math.

For the class of 2009, or this year’s juniors, about 72 percent have met both the reading and writing WASL and are on track to graduate.

In Spokane, 77 percent of this year’s 10th-graders who took the test for the first time passed the reading WASL, and 82 percent passed the writing WASL.

“In large numbers, kids are stepping up to the plate; they are learning the skills they need to learn,” Bergeson said.

There was some concern among school administrators that the state’s announcement about the change in the law — which came about the time those students were preparing to take the exam this spring — would be reflected in math scores.

Schools were afraid some students would not take the test seriously.

“I thought that wasn’t very timely,” said Mead’s Hill.

“In terms of what the message was sent to parents and children…attitude and how you value that whole test is going to make a huge difference.”

Mead’s math scores dipped by about 6 percentage points, Hill said.

Math scores for Spokane’s County’s second-largest district, Central Valley, remained about the same at 58 percent, while Spokane’s dropped about four percentage points.

“I have no idea what impact that had; but it certainly wasn’t a real pump-up for the kids,” said Bergeson.

Parents and students should expect to begin receiving scores in the mail over the next few weeks.

Preliminary scores for high school students were released in June so students who failed one or more sections of the tests would be able to take remedial courses in the summer to prepare for a retake of the WASL in August.

Those scores won’t be available until November.

Students who still haven’t passed one or more sections can also show proficiency in several other ways, including collecting work samples and scoring above a certain range on advanced placement courses or exams such as the SAT or ACT.

Students who fail the math exam will have to complete a state-approved alternative assessment or take additional math courses for now.

The test is the state’s measure of progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act and was administered to the first group of students — fourth-graders — in 1997.

While the state requires students pass reading and writing portions of the test for graduation now — and will add math to that list in 2012 — the federal law says that schools have until 2014 to make sure every child is proficient in reading and math. Reauthorization of the law is set to begin this year.

Opponents of the test say it is an unfair assessment, because it forces all students to take a one-size-fits-all exam, including special education students and students whose first language is not English.

Even with new options, including developmentally appropriate tests, some students still struggle to pass.

“I am pleased that our students are, overall, doing well on the WASL. However, in Washington, we understand that there is more to improved student learning and accountability than an annual snapshot of test scores,” Gov. Chris Gregoire said in a news release issued Thursday.