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Tacoma elementary kids make gains while older students struggle, latest test scores show

The latest test scores from the state show that elementary students in Tacoma test better than their secondary school counterparts.

The Office of Public Instruction released the latest results from 2019 this week.

In Tacoma, the number of students in third, fourth and fifth grades meeting state standards increased in both English Language Arts (ELA) and math in 2019 compared to 2018.

Sixth and seventh graders saw small gains in English test scores but losses in math.

Eighth and tenth graders saw losses in both English and math.

District officials are pleased more primary school students are meeting state testing standards but say there needs to be improvement at all grade levels.

“We believe we are seeing gains. Would we like to see more? Sure. And we would certainly like to see them in certain student groups where we’re not seeing those gains,” said Marie Verhaar, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning for Tacoma Public Schools.

The numbers

Tacoma Public Schools saw an increase in the number of students meeting standards for ELA from 51.1 percent to 52.2 percent. More than 15,000 students were tested.

The number of students meeting standards for math decreased slightly from 39 percent meeting standard to 38.5 percent, according to OSPI data.

Third graders had the highest improvement in math, with 5 percent more meeting standard than in 2018. Fifth graders had the highest improvement in ELA, with 5 percent more meeting standard than in 2018.

In the course of five years, third graders had the highest gains in math, with 4 percent more meeting standard than in 2015. Fourth graders had the highest improvement in ELA, with 13 percent more meeting standard.

Eighth graders saw the highest losses over the past five years, with 8 percent fewer students meeting standard than in 2015.

Here’s how this year’s scores hold up against last year’s:

THIRD GRADERS

ELA — 2018: 49 percent meeting standard. 2019: 51.

Math — 2018: 47. 2019: 52.

FOURTH GRADERS

ELA — 2018: 54. 2019: 55.

Math — 2018: 48. 2019: 48.

FIFTH GRADERS

ELA — 2018: 55. 2019: 60.

Math — 2018: 42. 2019: 43.

SIXTH GRADERS

ELA — 2018: 46. 2019: 47.

Math — 2018: 37. 2019: 31.

SEVENTH GRADERS

ELA — 2018: 47. 2019: 51.

Math — 2018: 35. 2019: 37.

EIGHTH GRADERS

ELA — 2018: 47. 2019: 46.

Math — 2018: 32. 2019: 30.

TENTH GRADERS

ELA — 2018: 59. 2019: 56.

Math — 2018: 29. 2019: 27.

Efforts to bolster test scores

The gains in the test scores of primary students is not by accident, Verhaar said. “We have been very, very intentional.”

The district has invested about $3 million on ELA curriculum and about $5.5 million for math curriculum after conducting an audit of its assessment system in 2016.

The audit showed that what students were expected to learn at the end of the school year differed per teacher and class, Verhaar said.

Now, standards are better aligned throughout the district — meaning students should be on the same page by the time testing rolls around in the spring.

Verhaar said the district should start seeing more students meet standards in the coming years as teachers get used to the changes in curriculum.

“We intend and hope to see those gains,” she said.

When asked about losses in eighth and 10th grades, Verhaar said the district is still evaluating why they’re seeing those declines.

Either way, she said, the district accepts responsibility for the scores and is dedicated to making them better.

Starting this year, the district is rolling out intervention programs in schools with the lowest test scores. Those programs help students struggling with a certain subject outside of the classroom.

“While the state assessment is critical, it’s important — it’s one snapshot in time,” she said.

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