South Kitsap goes a WASLing

As the official results of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning announced by Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson Wednesday at 10 a.m., educators from all over the state sat in suspense — would their school be the black sheep of its district? Would their district be an embarrassment to the state?

Administrators had the raw numbers prior to Bergeson’s announcement, but with everything that rides on the test’s results, public schools in Washington took a deep breath and the Superintendent’s Web site slowed to a crawl with increased traffic as communities checked in.

For South Kitsap School District, the news is good — mostly.

“I’m really pleased,” said District Superintendent Bev Cheney Wednesday. “Our scores are up in eight of the nine areas. Some of our results are phenomenal.”

“I’m really pleased with the progress we’re making,” echoed Linda Munson, director of special programs for the district, who met with Cheney and Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services Kurt Wagner early Wednesday morning.

WASL results aren’t easy to decifer. The No Child Left Behind Act signed by President Bush requires that all students in all schools in all districts in the state meet the state’s target scores in reading and mathematics by the year 2014. To keep schools and districts on track to reach this goals, Washington was required to develop “a single statewide accountability system to ensure that all K-12 public school students are included in the state assessment system, at least 95 percent of the students enrolled in the tested grades are assessed, all student groups reach the state proficiency level in reading and mathematics by 2014 and schools and districts that do not meet the state’s adequate yearly progress (AYP) requirements are identified as needing improvement.”

The AYP focuses on student subgroups — American Indian or Alaskan Native, Asian or Pacific islander, Black, Hispanic, White, Special Education, limited English and low income — and the attainment of a target level of achievement in reading and math.

Students’ scores are divided into these groups, (there must be at least 111 students in a group district-wide for the group to be scored), and a margin for error is added to the score. According to Wagner, the margin of error is meant to act as assistance, giving students the benefit of the doubt.

All the schools in the South Kitsap School District met the AYP targets in reading and math. Cheney cited Mullenix Ridge and South Colby Elementaries as schools almost at the projected 2014 goal of 100 percent proficiency in reading and math already.

“Their concern is sustaining it,” Cheney laughed.

It was the district itself, however, that faltered. Munson explained that when districts fail to meet AYP for two consecutive years in any area, they are issued sanctions by the state under the No Child Left Behind Act. It then takes two consecutive years of attaining AYP in the area for sanctions to be lifted.

The South Kitsap School District did not attain the AYP requirement in seventh-grade special education proficiency for the second year in a row. It will be required to set aside $134,000 — 10 percent of its Title 1 funds allocation — to improve the special education program.

Title 1 funds go to help schools in the district known as “Title 1 schools,” schools whose low-income students make up at least 40 percent of the student body. South Kitsap’s Title 1 schools are Burley-Glenwood Elementary, East Port Orchard Elementary, Hidden Creek Elementary, Orchard Heights Elementary, Olalla Elementary, Sidney Glen Elementary, Sunnyslope Elementary, Cedar Heights Junior High and Marcus Whitman Junior High.

The district also failed to meet AYP graduation rate standards. Cheney reported the district met standards at South Kitsap High School, but Discovery students are counted, as well.

Sixty-one students graduated from Discovery this year, Cheney said, but 41 did not graduate in their “cohorts,” meaning they did not graduate on time, in four years, with the students they started out with in ninth grade.

“If we didn’t have our programs, we would have made AYP,” Cheney said. “But if it weren’t for these programs, we’d have 61 kids who wouldn’t have graduated.”

Since this is the first year, the high school has not met the AYP, it is flagged, but not sanctioned, and since the high school is not a Title 1 school, the $134,000 would not need to be set aside if it was sanctioned.

“This is a high-stakes test,” Munson said. “The sanctions are very severe.”

“$134,000 — that’s people,” Cheney said.

According to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, this past Spring, approximately 220,000 students in grades four, seven and 10 participated in the WASL in reading, mathematics and writing. Another 150,000 students in grades five and eight joined the 10th graders in taking the newest section of the test: science. The listening section of the WASL was discontinued this spring. Science will be required for fifth graders in the spring of 2005.

Washington’s fourth-, seventh- and 10th-grade students reached higher levels of achievement on the WASL than ever before. Scores rose in every grade.

Outstanding gains were made in many struggling schools across Washington. As in past years, more students in every ethnic group are succeeding in meeting the state’s challenging academic standards, but minority students’ achievement exceeded that of White classmates this year helping to narrow the gap.

“We set out more than 10 years ago to create statewide learning standards based on what skills we knew would be necessary to be successful in the 21st Century,” said Bergeson on Wednesday. “With that came high expectations that every student could attain these skills. The next step included establishing an accountability system to ensure that the results of all our hard work to improve student learning could be measured over time. All of these pieces are now in place. More and more of our diverse students are meeting our learning goals, thanks to the hard work of thousands of educators.”

However, Bergeson drew attention to the achievement gap and the number of students not making enough academic progress.

The Washington Educators Association (WEA) released a statement Wednesday reacting to the results and the lack of individual student progress was a topic of concern.

“We are proud of the progress students are schools continue to make in Washington,” said WEA President Charles Hasse. “At the same time, educators have very little confidence in the WASL or the so-called No Child Left Behind Act as a meaningful measure of that progress.”

According to Hasse, “the WASL score adjustments made in Washington will reduce the number of schools penalized for lack of student achievement, but the target goal of 100 percent achievement by 2014 remains, with no additional funding or fixes in sight.”

The South Kitsap School District does have fixes in sight and administrators said they hope next year’s WASL is flawless.

“What is really important is that we’re looking at sub-groups we’ve never looked at before,” Munson said.

“I’m glad (the problems) are at a district level,” Cheney said, because it allows interventions to be effective district-wide.

“We already have interventions in place,” Cheney said.

She and other administrators met yesterday by the Special Education staff to brainstorm solutions to raise Special Education proficiency. The district has worked for the past several years to implement literacy programs and is currently weighing the idea of a credit-based high-school class status, not counting students who don’t have enough credits to graduate within the year as seniors.

Cheney said there are many factors to consider, but the switch would lower the raise the district’s graduation rate. Cheney also touts the importance of staff training. According to Cheney, where many districts focus on buying materials, South Kitsap has a strong focus on instruction that has really paid off.

“Staff training is critical,” Cheney said.

“It’s the way teachers teach that creates the most impact,” Wagner echoes.

However, Cheney recognizes that the science of education is changed forever and the WASL, for now, is here to stay.

“We are now really data-driven,” Cheney said. “Culture is changing in South Kitsap.”

For more information on the WASL or state and local results visit the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s Report Card web site at

Glossary Inset: Definitions from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction web site

WASL-The Washington Assessment of Student Learning is a test designed by Washington teachers and reflects what students know and are able to do based on the state’s Essential Academic Learning Requirements (EARLs). These clear targets in the subject areas of reading, writing, listening and mathematics represent the specific academic skills and knowledge Washington state students are required to meet in the classroom.

AYP-As required by the No Child Left Behind legislation, Washington state has developed a single statewide accountability system. The concept of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is based on students attaining a target level of achievement in reading and math and disaggregating student scores into nine subgroups for each school and district.

Title 1-A Title 1 school must have at least 40% of students from low-income families and an approved reform plan that coordinates and integrates its many programs and services. Some students in the school receive supplemental services funded by Title 1.

Annual Dropout Rate-The total number of students that drop out of school from grades 9 through 12, divided by the total number of students, less the number of students that transferred out of the district/school.

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