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WASL results in — SKSD scores up generally

Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) scores were announced last week and the South Kitsap School District (SKSD) is cautiously celebrating another year of analysis and strategic improvements.

Terry Bergeson, the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, gave her annual report on student achievement Wednesday from Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way.

All the schools in the South Kitsap School District met their targets in reading and math, outpacing the state average in fourth grade reading and math, fifth grade science, seventh grade reading, math and writing and 10th grade reading.

In fourth grade writing, the difference was 1.5 percent. In eighth grade science, the difference was 1.6 percent. In 10th-grade math, the difference was .3 percent and in 10th-grade science it was 1.9 percent.

“This is the first year we’ve improved in every category,” said Kurt Wagner, SKSD’s assistant superintendent of instructional services. “And it’s not just one or two schools that are achieving high results. It’s across the board.”

Unfortunately, South Kitsap High School failed to make its goals for the third straight year. The school is now in “Step 2” status. Of 17 categories, SKHS failed to make the cut in only two.

“SKHS did not make (its goal) in the Special Education population for Reading and Math,” said SKSD Spokesperson Aimee Warthen. “SKHS has not met (the goal) for three years, but no sanctions are applied because they receive no Title I dollars.”

There are five Title I schools in the district — Burley-Glenwood Elementary, East Port Orchard Elementary, Orchard Heights Elementary, Sidney Glen Elementary and Sunnyslope Elementary. All met their standards this year and therefore, no sanctions.

Last year, South Kitsap High School (SKHS) failed to meet standards in two areas — special education and its graduation rate requirement, or annual dropout rate.

This year, the school’s special education scores were still not high enough to make the cut, but it is no longer being penalized for what appeared to be a low graduation rate.

Administrators toyed with the idea of a credit-based high-school class status after last year’s announcement, discovering that by counting fourth-year students at the alternative high school that weren’t necessarily going to graduate, they were pulling an otherwise impressive graduation rate down.

The credit-based class status wouldn’t count students who don’t have enough credits to graduate within the year as seniors. After the students’ grade-level status was readjusted by credit, the graduation rate ceased to be a problem.

“We just began calculating it like everyone else did,” said Linda Munson, director of special programs for the district, who met with Superintendent Bev Cheney and Wagner on Wednesday to analyze the results of the test.

This past spring, more than 375,000 students took at least one section of the WASL. Students in grades four, seven and 10 take the WASL in reading, mathematics and writing.

Grade 10 students also take a science WASL, as do those in grades five and eight.

The WASL is made up of multiple-choice, short-answer and extended-response questions. Scores are reported in one of four levels, with a “one” indicating little or no understanding at all and a “four” indicating the highest level of skill and knowledge in a subject.

A student earning a level three or four is “meeting standard.”

The assessment is designed to measure how well students are learning the state’s academic standards in reading, mathematics, writing and science. These standards were created by a diverse group of Washington educators and citizens in the mid-1990s and reflect the skills and knowledge students need in order to be successful as adults.

“I hate the hammer, but I love the challenge,” Munson said.

According to Wagner, many students have moved from a one to a two, but those results are not counted. Meeting AYP is a “yes” or a “no.”

“There’s significant improvement that happens from student to student that isn’t reflected in the results,” Wagner said.

The No Child Left Behind Act signed by President George 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.

Munson said Washington state is nationally regarded as a leader in how it has implemented its federal education requirements.

“I feel it’s very important that we’re held accountable to our students, their parents and the community,” Munson said. “I look at it at as, ‘Where are we in relation to ourselves? Are we moving forward?’ ”

The goals focus 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).

Munson said the district will continue to try to improve its special education scores, but as the students learn to read at the standardized level, they are often eligble to exit the program.

At the state level, only scores in eighth grade science and 10th grade writing declined in 2005. Almost 80 percent of fourth grade students met the requirement.

Students in grades seven and 10 made impressive gains as well, with 68.7 percent of seventh graders and 72.4 percent of 10th graders meeting the state’s reading standards.

Grades seven and 10 chalked up three- and four-point gains in math this year, while fourth grade students scored slightly higher than the previous year. Close to 61 percent of fourth-grade students, 50.5 percent of those in the seventh grade and 47.1 percent in the 10th grade met the math expectations.

This year’s incoming class of sophomores will be the first in Washington to have to meet new graduation requirements — crafting a student plan for their post-high school goals, successfully completing courses to meet academic standards, designing a culminating project and meeting standard on the reading, math and writing sections of the WASL.

“It’s really nice when you see results. It’s great,” Wagner said. “We feel really good about this. But we won’t stop working until these kinds of results are an expectation and not a celebration.”

Cheney said it is important not to rely on a population of socio-economically blessed children to carry the scores of any particular school, but to build an infrastructure into each school that enables students to continue to improve.

“We are celebrating our successes,” Cheney concluded, “but we’re not letting up.”

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