Washington students are making steady progress on state tests, but too many – especially minority kids – are still failing to reach the big goal of graduating from high school on time, state education officials said Wednesday.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn announced results from state tests administered last spring. In many areas, those tests reflect improvements over time, he said.
“We have more ups than we have downs,” Dorn said. “Students are continuing to make progress.”
In Tacoma, most grade levels improved reading and math scores by at least as many points as statewide averages, especially in the middle grades. The exceptions were the youngest tested Tacoma readers – third-graders, who dropped 7 percentage points from the previous year – and the oldest readers – 10th graders, who fell by 3 points. Statewide, third-grade reading dropped by 4 points and 10th grade reading by nearly 2 points.
“While we don’t think tests results alone provide a comprehensive picture of effectiveness, the results are definitely encouraging,” Tacoma Public Schools Superintendent Carla Santorno said in a statement. “By no means have we reached our goals. We still have much work to do to help our students succeed.”
Dorn said he’s concerned about how test score improvements will translate down the line. Slightly more than a quarter of the members of the class of 2013 have not passed enough state tests to meet state graduation requirements. That’s more than 19,000 Washington students who are about to start their senior year.
Of those not making the grade, more than 11 percent still need to pass a math assessment. And 6 percent of them need to pass all three required subjects: math, reading and writing.
They have will have another opportunity to try to pass the tests this school year, or present a portfolio of work known as a “collection of evidence” to show they know the material.
FOCUS ON SCIENCE
Dorn pointed to statewide fifth- and eighth-grade science scores as an example of progress. Fifth-graders’ scores went up about 10 percentage points this year; eighth-graders’ increased by about 5 percentage points.
“Science scores have not been our strength (in years past),” Dorn said.
He said that 2012 was the second year students were tested on new science standards.
A 2009 teacher survey showed that Washington elementary school teachers were spending significantly less time on science than teachers in other states, Dorn said. Since then, Washington schools have put increased emphasis on teaching science in earlier grades, he added.
Math was also generally a bright spot in this year’s test results – students in most grades boosted their scores – but grades three, eight and 10 were down in reading.
The percentage of seventh-grade students passing the reading test rose by nearly 15 points from 2011. But Dorn’s deputy superintendent, Alan Burke, said those scores had plummeted in 2011.
Asked if score improvements are the result of state tests getting easier, Dorn was emphatic: “Absolutely not.”
78 PERCENT SUCCEED
Students in the class of 2013 – this year’s incoming seniors – were the first who must pass a state math test to graduate. About 78 percent of them met the goal.
Students took either a first-year math end-of-course exam, primarily algebra, or a second-year end-of-course exam, mainly geometry.
Members of the class of 2014 – this year’s juniors – were the first to take a biology end-of-course exam. A total of 61 percent passed. That’s about 10 percentage points better than their peers from the previous year, who had to take a general science test that covered several scientific disciplines.
Students in the class of 2015 – this year’s sophomores – will be the first who will have to pass tests in five areas to graduate: both end-of-course math exams plus end-of-course biology, along with reading and writing tests.
Dorn said state lawmakers need to be aware of the added costs of more testing, as well as the extra costs associated with students who have to take the tests more than once to pass or who choose “collection of evidence.” That process costs an estimated $400 per subject, partly because the state must pay a vendor to grade the collections.
One final additional testing impact comes from the Common Core Standards, a system being adopted by most states. It’s designed to raise the bar by demanding more analytical thinking of students, and to ensure that states have similar standards nationwide so that students who move between states will find similar expectations.
Common Core could mean more changes for Washington’s testing system, including yet another assessment for high school juniors to ensure they’re ready for college or a career.
Dorn said he will make recommendations on how to proceed before the next session of the Legislature.
This year marks the first time states had to report high school graduation rates using new federal calculation methods. For spring 2011 (the most recent year tabulated), Washington reported that nearly 77 percent graduated on time – an improvement over 10 years ago, Dorn said.
But he said on-time graduation numbers are still too low, particularly for minority students. He blamed some of the problem on a reduction in education funding in recent years.
Dorn said it matters when school districts can no longer afford summer school, after-school study, tutoring or graduation specialists whose job it is to keep faltering students on track. Children who struggle with health problems, family issues and military deployments need help when they have their education disrupted, he said.
The problem is particularly acute for minority kids. While 76.6 percent of all Washington students graduated with the class of 2011, the figure hovered around 65 percent for black and Hispanic students and fell to 56.5 percent for Indians.
“We are losing (roughly) half of our Native American students,” Dorn said. “We must do better.”email@example.com