University Place’s Curtis High School posted strong scores in all test areas during statewide tests last year. The results were recently released and are used by principals to improve student learning.
“I think we are quite proud of our results,” University Place School District Superintendent Jeff Chamberlin said. “I think it validates the work we have been doing.”
The district’s Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning, Jeff Loupas, will be presenting a breakdown of the test scores and what they all mean at a school board meeting in October as well as by request for parent groups. Information will also be included in the school district’s newsletter this fall.
But no matter how strong the numbers suggest, the district always studies them for ways to improve. The district’s school board set high expectations that include that UP schools will outperform the state and nation on all achievement measures, show progress year after year for each grade, make progress toward closing achievement gaps for specific minority or demographic of student and that those students will also outperform their peers on the same measures.
“These are ambitious goals,” Chamberlin said. “However, they have been a part of our work for a very long time, and the board has been steadfast in focusing us on these key improvement measures. These standards, and our collective commitment to meet them, have resulted in an organizational culture that always seeks improvement – even when achievement is strong. While this is very challenging, it serves our students well.”
Tacoma students also showed strong improvements district wide, again outpacing state averages.
“Overall, the scores are good,” Tacoma Public School Director of Assessment Fengya Hung.
The results of standardized test scores can get confusing to understand, so the district is preparing school-level letters for parents to better explain how their children are faring on their learning compared to other students in the state. Those 30,000 letters are being rolled out now and should be delivered by early next month.
For principals, the scores provide not only encouragement that their focus on higher-learning preparation is working, but also provides evidence for where and how and when to connect students with early-intervention resources if they are struggling. The district, for example, offers college-bound testing for middle and high school students as a way for students to not only familiarize themselves with the testing format, but also review their results to find areas on where to improve.
“That is almost unheard of,” Hung said.
The local district results are mirroring state trends, with the average student scores for tests taken last spring across the state, showing a rise of three percentage points compared to 2015 numbers. The results – which include the Smarter Balanced tests in English language arts and math, as well as the science Measurements of Student Progress tests – were released by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction last week.
“We see the growth from last year’s baseline scores across the board in both ELA and math,” state Superintendent Randy Dorn said. “That’s a testament to the great work done by all school employees and by our students.”
Scores for grade 3 to 8 increased in every grade across both ELA and math, from 3.3 percentage points in eighth grade ELA to 1.5 percentage points in fifth grade math.
Measurements of Student Progress tests in science were taken by fifth and eighth graders. The percentage of proficient eighth graders increased by 7.2 percentage points to 67.5 percent in 2016 compared to 60.3 percent in 2015. For fifth graders, the increase was 2.2 percentage points, 65.3 percent compared to 63.1 percent in 2015.
High school students are required to take the Smarter Balanced and math tests in 11th grade, but can take them in 10th grade. A student who earns a Level 3 or 4 is considered “college and career ready” in that area. That means the student will not have to take remedial classes in college. Remedial classes cost money, but don’t earn credits toward a degree.
For the 2017 senior class, three out of four students are college and career ready, compared to one out of four students last year. The threshold scores for graduation are lower than those for career and college readiness and were established by the State Board of Education in 2015. About eight out of every nine 12th graders have fulfilled their assessment requirements.
The Washington Education Association, however, says the state’s use of standardized test results as a graduation requirement creates a high-stakes stress on students that should be more hollistic.
“We should stop using these scores to determine who can or can’t graduate, and start using them as they were intended – to identify which schools need more support and resources to help all kids succeed,” said WEA President Kim Mead. “Specific needs include smaller class sizes for all grades, more counselors, librarians, nurses and family services staff.”
Washington is one of only 14 states that require students to pass math and language arts tests to graduate, and many states have eliminated similar graduation requirements.
Standardized testing has a place in public education, Mead stated in a release, yet testing takes too much time and expense away teaching and learning.
“Students spend hours taking the tests – and even more time prepping, practicing and learning the specialized test technology,” according to the statement. “This ends up limiting access to computers and library resources for regular studies and testing often interrupts class schedules, even for students who aren’t being tested.”
FREE SCHOOL SUPLIES
Free school supplies for students in University Place schools will be offered from 10 a.m. to noon on Aug. 27 at Curtis High School. No registration is required, but children need to be present since supplies are limited. Information can be found at www.familiesunlimitednetwork.org/btsf.