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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Student data mixed on new state assessments

High school math scores cause concern, while younger pupils’ skills hold steady

More than 60 percent of sophomores in Spokane Public Schools last year failed Washington’s math assessment test, while students in neighboring districts performed only slightly better, according to results released Tuesday.

But Spokane-area seventh-graders improved or stayed the same on their tests in reading, writing and math.

Tuesday’s results were from the first of the shorter tests that replaced the unpopular Washington Assessment of Student Learning exam. The new tests are called the High School Proficiency Exam and the Measurements of Student Progress for grades 3 through 8.

Statewide, test results were mixed.

“I want you to know we are in a transition phase,” said Randy Dorn, state superintendent of public instruction, whose office released the data. “I believe it went well and it will go better next year.”

Only 39.3 percent of sophomores passed the state math assessment in Spokane Public Schools; the rate was about 46 percent for Mead and 50 percent for Central Valley.

The data alarms officials because incoming sophomores will have to pass standardized tests in algebra and geometry in order to graduate in 2013.

“Math is a struggle for districts across the state and nation, particularly at the secondary level where the differences between Spokane and state scores were not statistically significant,” said Terren Roloff, spokeswoman for Spokane Public Schools. “Part of the problem in Washington is changing standards (three times in the last five or six years) that result in changing curriculum.”

The district is hopeful that consistent state standards as well as professional training for the new curriculum will result in improvement next year and beyond, Roloff said.

The good news for Spokane Public Schools is that the district’s elementary students scored above the state average and the seventh-graders are right at the state average, said district Superintendent Nancy Stowell. “If we are starting to see improvements there, then that’s good news for the future.”

In addition to being the first year for the shorter tests, which include a lot of multiple choice questions, this was also the first time the tests were given online.

Middle schools in the Central Valley, East Valley, Cheney, Freeman, Mead and Spokane districts piloted the online tests.

State officials expected that the new format would prove more difficult for students, but “several analyses showed no difference in the results between the online and paper-and-pencil tests,” Dorn said.

Next year, fourth- and fifth-graders will take reading and math tests online, while fifth- and eighth-graders will take science online, state officials said.

In addition, the reading portion of the test will be shorter, based on feedback from teachers, Dorn said.

Along with the assessment scores, the state office also released information about schools that failed to meet federal adequate yearly progress standards under the No Child Left Behind law. Statewide, 968 schools fell short of the standards, a decrease of 317 schools compared with 2009.

A school’s failure to make adequate progress can mean its students had too many unexcused absences or one group of students scored too low on state tests; there are 37 categories measured. Most of the local schools that have traditionally struggled with AYP showed signs of improvement this year, officials said.

Lorna Spears, Spokane Public Schools executive director of student intervention and support services, said the district’s schools held steady or improved, and “that’s good news.”

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