State releases annual test results; local outcomes mixed

No school in Walla Walla met federal Adequate Yearly Progress benchmarks.

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WALLA WALLA -- The latest scores from the state's standardized exams continue to show a mixed bag of results overall, with some schools and grades showing vast improvements in some areas, and a need to refocus efforts in others.

No city schools met federal standards for annual gains, however.

Results of the exams, taken by students throughout the state in the spring, were released Tuesday by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Students in third through eighth grades took the Measurements of Student Progress exam, while 10th-graders took the High School Proficiency Exam.

The 2010-11 school year marked the second year students took the new exams, which were overhauled by state Superintendent Randy Dorn from the Washington Assessment of Student Learning exam.

For the first time last school year, students also took end-of-course exams, or the EOCs, in algebra and geometry in place of the standardized high school math exam. The EOC exams were taken by students in any grade completing those courses. An end-of-course exam will be taken by biology students in 2012 to replace the high school science exam.

As a whole, Walla Walla Public Schools saw its most marked improvements among fourth and fifth-grade students in math, and fifth-graders in science. There were also gains among fourth-graders in writing; gains among sixth and eighth-graders in reading; and 10th-graders in science. Tenth-grade reading and writing scores dropped from the previous year.

Compared with state results, local students did about the same or below their counterparts, with only fifth-grade science scores above the state average. Locally, 59 percent of fifth-graders met science standards, compared to 56 percent statewide, according to the OSPI data.

Walla Walla students who took the end-of-course exams were near the state averages as well, with about 63 percent passing the algebra exam, and about 69 percent passing the geometry exam. State averages were 66 and 74 percent respectively.

Individual schools still showed adjustment to the new exams, but shined in some areas. Among the biggest increases was Blue Ridge Elementary fourth-graders, with 48 percent meeting math standards compared to 8 percent last year, and 50 percent meeting writing standards compared to 27 percent last year. In another dramatic increase, 78 percent of Blue Ridge fifth-graders met the science standards, compared to 11 percent last year.

The science improvement was also apparent at Prospect Point Elementary, where 76 percent of fifth-graders met science standards, compared to 25 percent last year. Green Park fifth-graders made similar improvements, with 52 percent meeting standards in science compared to 35 percent last year, a well as Edison fifth-graders, with 40 percent passing the science exam compared to 12 percent last year.

Walla Walla middle school students who took the EOC math exams had near-perfect results, with almost all Garrison and Pioneer students passing and just one student missing standard in algebra.

District assessment coordinator Maria Garcia said a focus on math instruction over the past few years has paid off, as shown by the latest results. She said the district will do further analysis on why reading and writing scores suffered some drops.

Garcia said one of the best indicators that Walla Walla Public Schools is serving its students well is in its high graduation rates. The district's on-time rate is about 87 percent, with 99 percent of students graduating from high school when an extra, or "fifth" year is factored in.

"We can't possibly be doing a bad job when we're graduating kids at such a high rate," she said.

Garcia also pointed out that the district doesn't use the state exams as the only means of assessing student progress. A variety of assessments are used throughout the year to measure how individual students are improving.

"We don't rely on just that one data point to talk about how our kids are doing," she said.

Adequate Yearly Progress

Meanwhile, district schools continued to struggle to meet federal Adequate Yearly Progress guidelines. Based on the No Child Left Behind law, or the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, students throughout the nation are to make specific gains in reading and math each year, with the goal of all students in the country meeting standards by 2014.

The much-criticized law has prompted challenges from states, and the Obama administration recently announced it would allow states to seek waivers from its requirements, if other steps toward meeting academic standards are met.

All 10 Walla Walla schools failed to meet AYP for the 2010-11 school year, placing them among 1,388 in the state. That figure represents an increase of about 200 schools from last year. The College Place Public Schools district, its schools, as well as the Walla Walla disrict as a whole, also came short of meeting its goals.

Once a school has two years in a row without meeting AYP, it moves into one of five steps, with step 5 being the most critical. A school must meet all of its goals in a variety of categories to achieve AYP.

Prospect Point and Edison elementary schools are both at step 2; Berney, Blue Ridge and Sharpstein are at step 3; while Green Park Elementary is in step 4.

Garrison and Pioneer middle schools are in step 4, while Lincoln Alternative and Walla Walla high schools are each in step 5. Results can be challenged by schools if it can be demonstrated students are making gains.

College Place schools are also in the step system, with Davis Elementary at step 4 and Meadow Brook Intermediate and Sager Middle schools in step 3. College Place as a district is in step 2.

In a statement released Tuesday state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn continued his criticism of the AYP system.

"Under AYP in 2014, a school or district could have 99 percent of its students at proficiency and still be deemed as needing improvement," Dorn said. "This is a highly flawed law.

"Congress has had four years to act on reauthorization and has done nothing. I've not read one comment from a member of Congress who thinks No Child Left Behind, as written, is good for students or schools. Those who represent us in the other Washington must do their jobs and do what is right in bringing some realistic expectations to AYP."

Walla Walla Public Schools assessment coordinator Maria Garcia said she agreed with Dorn's overview of the federal program. She said in some ways, the law has brought positive results, like asking districts to look at individual needs of students. But it the area of AYP, it is failing students.

"It's a flawed system," she said. Wa-Hi, for example, is in most critical step in the system.

"Yet Wa-Hi won an award for closing the achievement gap," Garcia said.

"I think we're doing very well at getting kids what they need in our district," she said. "And we're going to improve. Individual children in our district will continue to improve."

Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at mariagonzalez@wwub.com or 526-8317.

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