New year, new goals for school district

The same evening members of the South Kitsap School District Board looked at the results of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL), Superintendent Bev Cheney presented the district’s goals for the coming year.

Now that the numbers are in, the district faces the challenge of catching up on some sections of the WASL in which students saw less success — and then exceeding the increasingly growing state standards.

Cheney’s district goals include WASL benchmarks and the districts “family-friendly schools” work. The WASL benchmarks are all higher this year, to catch up with the next state-mandated step for Adequate Yearly Progress.

The district intends to increase the percentage of students passing various sections of the WASL around 3 to 10 percentage points depending on the subject and grade level.

But most notable is the goal to raise the percentage of 10th graders passing the math portion of the WASL by 20.2 points, a jump that would surpass the those gains in every other year combined.

Since 10th graders started taking the math portion of the WASL in 1999, South Kitsap moved from 31.3 percent passing, to a high of 48.8 passing in 2006, a difference of 17.5 percentage points.

“We were trying to come up with a goal that would really get the attention of the staff,” Wagner said.

Statewide, the problem is much the same. In 1999, 33 percent of students in the state passed the WASL, reaching 51 percent this year, meaning school districts must accomplish in one year what the state has not in almost 10.

Those numbers concerned the school board, who questioned whether the district can make what would be a record-breaking gain.

“It seems unattainable,” Board Vice President Chuck Meyhew said. “Soemtimes you get so far into debt, there’s no way out.”

But district administrators noted that the district has few options in this goal. The goal reflects the state uniform bar, which increases for every district this year.

“We have to be honest with ourselves and with the public,” Director of Special Programs Linda Munson said to the board. “That is the AYP goal. We thought it would be unfair not to really reflect that goal.”

To accomplish this, the district is continues to explore its curriculum and supportive programs.

“If I had the magic bullet, I’d use it,” said Cathy Gangnes, chair of the South Kitsap High School math department.

In addition to the continuing Promoting Academic Success (PAS) classes, the district will start offering state-approved math courses that break the class up into three major areas within the WASL.

Gangnes already began parent information sessions Tuesday evening to talk about the WASL.

Perhaps the largest challenge is getting the students into the classrooms to take the tests. Following legislation that delays the math requirement for graduation until 2013, the district saw large drops in test attendance, which dropped WASL scores, as each absence counts as a zero overall.

“There must be a lot of parents out there who don’t pay attention and don’t care,” board member Robert Bunker said. “I’m trying to figure out how we get those kids to sit and take that test and take it seriously.”

South Kitsap High School Instructional Specialist Quinn Nelson and Gangnes said parents and students need to understand that the test and its requirements are not completely gone. Students must continue taking math classes, show continual progress and take the test once every year.

Even though passing the test does not determine graduation, the math portion is still required.

Students wanting to avoid the test by showing academic achievement from the classroom must put together a specific portfolio of their work, a task that Nelson and Gangnes said is often as difficult and time-consuming as the test itself.

The two encourage parents to get involved with their student.

“Students and I can only stand on two legs,” Nelson said. “We need that third leg.”

Some of it is social mindset, Gangnes added. It’s common for people to assume they’re simply not good at math, and accept that. Gangnes thinks otherwise.

“The reality is all can do math,” Gangnes said.

That optimism is reflected at district offices, where Director of Instructional Services Dan Whitford said the district has gained ground in other subjects.

“We need to get those kids to the point where they’re meeting in math and science meeting standard as we currently are in reading and writing,” he said. “If we can do it in reading and writing, we can do it in math and science.”

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