The West Valley School District is in the business of educating students turned away from other schools.
More than half of the district’s 10th-graders are students at either Contract Based Education or Spokane Valley High School, two alternative high schools aimed at helping those lost in a traditional classroom get a diploma. The students come to West Valley from as many as 25 districts.
But because of a glitch in testing, Wednesday’s scores from the Washington Assessment of Student Learning show those students performing well below standard.
Because of the scores of those alternative students, scores for all of the district’s 10th-graders are down 20 percent in math and 16 percent in reading.
Only 47 percent of 10th-graders are proficient in reading and 28 percent in math, down from 67 and 44 percent last year.
“But those numbers do not tell the whole story. They are not an accurate reflection of the progress the district, or those alternative students, are making,” said West Valley Superintendent Polly Crowley.
They are instead a reflection of the kinks and complications still being worked out between what the state and federal governments are requiring under the No Child Left Behind Law, and the high-stakes testing provision.
The federal government says districts must test every student continually enrolled from October through the testing period in April each year to meet what is called Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP.
Believing that it only had to test the continuously enrolled students, West Valley tested 27 of 157 students from Contract Based Education. Because it tested all of the continually enrolled students, West Valley met the federal AYP benchmark.
But the state, however, requires all 157 students be tested, and it gave zeros for 130 students, bringing the scores for the 27 students below 15 percent passing in all categories.
Under state’s rules since the WASL was first administered in 1998, each district is accountable for every child enrolled at the time of the two-week testing window each spring.
“That is put in place so students don’t slip through the cracks,” said Kim Schmanke of the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
She said it has not been uncommon for districts in the past to hide students during the testing time.
At West Valley, the overwhelming population of alternative students makes “hiding” difficult.
The students come from all walks of life, and many work full-time or have no family support.
A contract-based education works for them, because many only have to check in at school one or two days a week. Asking every one of those students to come in and sit down and take a test every day for two weeks proves very difficult.
“I think it’s not a unique problem for West Valley. I think a lot of schools with a high concentration of kids in alternative programs are facing the same dilemma,” said Martin Mueller, director of learning and teaching support at OSPI. “But the dilemma is also that they are required to assess those students.”
For West Valley staff, it’s frustrating to see WASL scores come out in the news media each year.
The same thing occurred last year, when Contract Based scores showed less than 3 percent passing in math. This year’s scores show 4 percent passing in math, and 13 percent in reading.
According to numbers provided by the district, if the 130 zeros were removed, the 27 Contract Based students who did take the test actually performed well, with 67 percent passing in reading, 44 in writing, and 18.5 percent in math.
The district said it plans to appeal the scores released Wednesday, asking the state to remove the zeros for the 130 students. If it did that the district average would also climb, with 63.4 percent passing in reading, instead of 47 percent, 54 percent instead of 44 percent in writing, and 38 percent in math, instead of 18.5 percent.
Tenth-grade students at West Valley High School made gains in both reading and writing this year, going up to 79 percent passing in reading from 71, and to 73 percent from 61 in writing. They remained steady in math at 52 percent passing.
“We will continue to be committed to our alternative programs,” Crowley said. “It’s better to be educating them the best we can, rather than turning them away and out on the streets.”
Crowley noted that last year, West Valley alternative schools graduated 150 students that otherwise may not have graduated at all.
“That’s pretty gratifying; it makes it worth what we are going through,” with the WASL results. Crowley said. “The kids that aren’t making it anywhere else are coming to us.”
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