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Friday, September 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Scores slip with new Washington state test

Exam replaces WASL as graduation requirement

For the third year in a row, more than 90 percent of high school seniors passed Washington’s reading and writing assessment tests required for graduation.

Scores dropped slightly in writing and fell nearly 4 percentage points in math, but state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn said that was to be expected because this is the first year using a new testing system. The High School Proficiency Exam replaced the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, or WASL, this year.

“I fulfilled my promise to change our state tests, to make them shorter and to begin online testing,” Dorn said. “I’m pleased with the progress we made in this first year, but we knew this would be a two- to three-year transition. I want to assure our state educators that I’m listening to your feedback and will make any necessary adjustments next year.”

Dorn also attributed the drop in scores to fewer school resources caused by budget shortages and more students staying in school.

He said he didn’t know of a definitive reason scores slipped this year.

Spokane Public Schools’ class of 2010 scored close to the statewide scores, said Nancy Stowell, Spokane Public Schools superintendent.

“But our sophomores dropped,” Stowell said. “Our concern is with the 10th grade, and we are going to look into that more.”

Most district officials are getting their first look at the results this week and determining if there are any errors before individual school results are released.

Preliminary results for 10th-graders show that 78 percent passed reading and 84 percent passed writing in their first attempts at the proficiency exam, while only 43 percent of 10th-graders passed the math exam, the state said. Students have multiple chances to take the tests during high school, and once they pass it they are not required to take it again.

For juniors, who have had chances to pass the tests for two years now, 88 percent have passed reading, 90 percent have passed writing and 57 percent have passed math.

Passing reading and writing are required for graduation. The class of 2013 – sophomores starting this fall – will have to pass those plus math and science.

For now, failed assessments have not prevented any student from graduating in the Central Valley and Mead school districts since the requirement began.

“When we knew our 2008 class would have to pass the WASL to graduate, we took those students who we knew hadn’t passed and put them into workshops to start working on a Collection of Evidence,” said Evan Sorensen, academic success and staff development coordinator for the Central Valley district.

A Collection of Evidence consists of student reading comprehension or writing samples that demonstrate ability, or an ACT or SAT score, that can substitute for passing the assessment test.

“We take students individually and find the process … that will get them through graduation,” Sorensen said.

Mead School District and Spokane Public Schools also have staff in the schools that intervene.

But in 2010, there were 23 students in the Spokane district that did not graduate because they failed one or both tests.

“We need to get ahead of that and make sure kids are trying the alternatives,” Stowell said.

In the district’s defense, she added, Spokane is the second-largest district in the state and has a higher poverty rate than Central Valley and Mead districts. While there’s a lot of support for elementary school children in poverty, Stowell said, “there’s less support in middle and high schools for kids in poverty.”

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