The news makes Jeff Miller and Mike van Metre grin like Cheshire cats: East Valley High School’s test scores look good this year against their neighbors.
“Hey, from the bottom to the top in one year! Alright!” said principal Miller to vice principal van Metre.
In a tight contest among the four suburban Valley high schools, East Valley’s juniors scored higher - barely - in three of four categories on the annual standardized tests required for fourth-, eighth- and 11th-graders. Last year, East Valley rode the bottom rung of the ladder.
East Valley’s class of 1999 also scored the highest of any East Valley class in the history of the test. The increases over last year’s East Valley scores were startling, all right: a 15 percentile point jump in language arts; 13 points in history; 15 points in math and seven points in science.
The front page of the school newspaper, Knight Edition, shows the school’s scores and exhorts underclassmen: “Sophomores and freshmen, where will your class stand in EVHS history?”
Hey, wait a minute. What is this - a sports event or dry, old standardized test scores?
And, what’s going on at East Valley? Is this year’s class that much smarter than last year’s?
The answer to these questions involves both rivalry and sharing between officials at East Valley and West Valley high schools.
Miller and van Metre cheerfully admit they called West Valley principal Cleve Penberthy last year after he pulled off a similar coup. They wanted help, and he gave it.
Penberthy suggested these ideas: Allow only students with enough credits to move into the junior class to take the tests. Create a booklet of practice tests so juniors could brush up on test-taking skills and the concepts covered. Divide students into small groups, academically ranked, for testing. Provide healthy snacks and ample monitoring.
East Valley also asked for help from the office of the state superintendent of public instruction. Miller and van Metre wanted to know just what they could do, legally, to help their students test better.
Also, East Valley superintendent Chuck Stocker talked with high school department heads and counselors, telling them that improvement on the tests was imperative. Stocker talked with students, as well, urging them to do their best, to remember that the community was watching.
All these efforts worked, clearly.
Call it motivation. Call it simply managing these tests better.
“Hopefully, this being the seventh year of the test, this thing has worked itself out so that those bumps aren’t there any more,” said Bob Silverman, state supervisor of assessment and evaluation. “But if no one cared for however many years, and then suddenly someone said why are our scores so low and took control of the things they could manage, the scores would go up.”
Then, Silverman said, if measures are maintained over time, districts will end up with a better reading of student performance.
Some of the changes East Valley and West Valley established are big ones. Establishing minimum credit standards for students to be promoted from one grade level to another is something that each school district is free to do. It also may become more common, as the challenging state tests come online for 10th graders, Silverman said.
That change also resulted, this year at East Valley, in a stronger pool of test-takers. Fifty-four students who would ordinarily have been considered juniors at East Valley were not this year because they had not earned the minimum number of credits.
Establishing minimum credit standards produces a one-year phenomenon: At West Valley, a stronger pool contributed to its strikingly good ‘96 scores. This year, with that group of lower achieving juniors back in the testing pool, West Valley’s scores were less strong. That’s a change that Penberthy predicted last year, and one that will likely be echoed next year at East Valley.
Other changes that East Valley used were smaller.
On one of the math sections of the 11th-grade tests, students are allowed to use calculators, but only if all students have them.
Before this, “we didn’t provide calculators. We provided No. 2 pencils,” Miller said.
This year, Stocker went out and bought calculators for students who didn’t have their own. In doing so, he was simply catching up with what other Valley high schools have done for years.
Also, East Valley tested its students in groups of 20, selected by academic ranking.
Some teachers asked if that was the right thing to do. But by grouping students of similar ability, Miller said, students who worked more slowly weren’t discouraged when faster students finished a section of the test much earlier.
Academic changes weren’t part of the new approach at East Valley. Teachers there, as in other school districts across Washington, are instead aligning their work with the state’s new essential learnings.
The changes were in motivation and management.
“We probably went from the school that gave the test the worst, to a school that gave the test about as well as everyone else,” Miller said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo; Graphic: Valley test scores
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