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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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WASL report cards look good

One principal had a box of party poppers ready to go.

Administrators talked about school celebrations.

A group of fourth-grade teachers took a moment to soak up the improvements of their students, then began to consider the next group of students who will arrive Tuesday.

Spokane Public Schools rejoiced with their strong scores in the high stakes Washington Assessment of Student Learning test, released by the state Wednesday morning.

Steve Barnes, principal at Holmes Elementary, will use party poppers to spread some cheer and streamers among his staff for helping the student “pass rate” jump a hefty 30 percentage points in both math and reading. Ninety-three percent of Holmes students qualify for free or reduced-priced meals, and the school has an extremely high rate of students entering and leaving the school throughout the year.

“It gave us great hope knowing these kids can do it,” Barnes said. “We knew it all along. This just proves it.”

This school year will be the first in which 10th-graders must pass the WASL in order to graduate, although they will get four chances to pass before their 2008 graduation. The most dramatic gains came in the lower grades, with 10th-grade scores improving at a slower rate.

“The mood of the district is very positive. We’re celebrating some of the successes we’re seeing,” said Nancy Stowell, associate superintendent of teaching and learning services.

Superintendent Brian Benzel was visiting schools Wednesday to congratulate teachers.

“We certainly want to celebrate. We forget to celebrate the hard work that goes into the success we’re seeing,” Stowell said.

The district said in a news release Wednesday that the rise in the percentage of passing scores can be attributed to teachers who now work together with weekly meetings in an effort called collaborative time. Administrators also credit a curriculum that aligns with the WASL and instructional coaches who give teachers regular feedback on how their lessons match up to the curriculum. The district currently employs about 100 instructional coaches, who worked at the lower grades. This year coaches will be added to all the high schools, Stowell said.

The fourth-grade team at Linwood Elementary, the only district school to see at least a 10 percentage-point gain in reading, writing and math, didn’t want to take all the credit. They say the successful rates are part of everyone becoming more comfortable with the test due to continued exposure and lessons that present many classroom lessons in a WASL-like format. Now that students and parents alike are relaxing, they’re becoming confident with the WASL.

“The overall feeling in our classroom is, ‘We can do this,’ ” said Lori Thompson who’s been teaching at Linwood for six years. “Most of them say, ‘No big deal.’ “

Some students are even saying the test is a lot easier than they expected, said Michelle Harmon, a Linwood fourth-grade teacher. In Spokane County’s largest school district, more than 80 percent of fourth-graders passed in reading. Eight elementary schools scored 90 percent or higher in students who passed the reading section.

Linwood’s scores were 71 percent passing in math, 80 percent in reading and 68 percent in writing.

One school in the district, Madison Elementary, scored a perfect 100 percent passing rate in reading. One elementary school, Moran Prairie scored in the 90 percent passing range for math, reading and writing. Holmes Elementary saw its passing rate in math more than double to 61 percent from 28 percent. Reading scores also went up to 76 percent passing, from 44 percent the previous year.

All middle schools saw passing percentages rise in reading and math.

The WASL is the state implementation of federal standards required by the No Child Left Behind Act. Schools are trying to meet the requirement that all students must pass the WASL by 2014.

Schools are required to have a number of student groups pass the WASL. If one group – like low-income or special-education students – does not meet standards on a test, then the whole school does not make what’s called Annual Yearly Progress or AYP.

In Spokane Public Schools, Ferris and North Central high schools did not make AYP due to low-income students not passing the math portion of the WASL.

The numbers released Wednesday are still considered preliminary and will be finalized in October.

Steve Boosinger, Liberty High School principal from the Liberty School District south of Spokane, was a little frustrated with what he considered inaccurate information released Wednesday by the state.

“They had duplicated one of our students,” Boosinger said.

Unfortunately for the school, that student had done poorly on the test.

“The kid absolutely bombed,” Boosinger said. “I probably wouldn’t be grumbling if it was an A student.”

Boosinger said that in a small school where 48 students took the WASL, one duplicated bad score can rack up quite an impact. Boosinger said he was told by state officials that there are currently 846 schools that have registered complaints about duplicated scores.

“I don’t know why they would release inaccurate information when they know it’s inaccurate,” Boosinger said. “For a big school, it would be no big deal. For us little guys, it’s certainly a public relations issue.”

West Valley School district is grappling with numbers for its alternative school population, and is in the process of appealing the district scores for its 10th-graders, which dropped significantly despite an increase in scores at West Valley High School. The drop is due to the scores from the alternative schools, which were posted below 15 percent passing in all areas at one school.

Around Spokane County, Cheney watched its seventh-graders’ passing rates for reading improve from 68 percent to 79 percent, with similar numbers for 10th-graders. Deer Park fourth-grade math scores shot up from 39 percent to 51 percent passing the WASL.

Liberty School District saw fourth-grade reading scores rise 23 points, to 71 percent passing. Those same fourth-graders had a 56 percent pass rate for writing, up 16 percentage points.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson said Wednesday that math is still the biggest challenge.

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