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WASL scores trend upward

"The results are in.Washington students in three key grades have been tested, yet again, to see if they are up to scratch in mathematics, reading, writing and listening, as part of a statewide effort to improve the standard of public education. Test scores for Oak Harbor and Coupeville schools are mostly up from last year, according to numbers for the Washington Assessment of Student Learning tests (WASL) released today by State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Terry Bergeson.But while school authorities are glad to see areas of improvement, in both school districts educators said there is still a long road ahead.We're making real good progress with reading, Oak Harbor School Board member Kathy Jones said. But there is still a lot to be desired, particularly in math, where the results statewide are pretty awful.Suzanne Bond, superintendent of the Coupeville School District agreed. Coupeville scores have improved in most areas, and Bond said she is very pleased. We're looking pretty good. We are above the state average in most areas and very close in others, she said. There is continuing improvement, and it's exciting to see growth. But you know we have a long way to go. In May, fourth-, seventh- and 10th-graders took the standardized Washington Assessment of Student Learning tests as part of a program that was launched for fourth-graders only four years ago. Seventh graders have taken the tests for three years, and 10th-graders for two. The results are not announced until the beginning of the new school year. The tests measure students against a set standard rather than each other so the results simply show whether a student met the set standard or not. By 2008, 10th graders will be required to pass the WASL test in order to finish high school, and the results will be part of their transcript. State schools superintendent Bergeson said that this year's tests were given to 215,000 students across the state, and the results showed continued improvement in reading and math scores. But for seventh-graders who first took WASL tests as fourth-graders in 1997, improvements in state averages were slight in math, reading and writing, and the average score for listening slipped. (See the table of scores on A12).Charisse Berner, the new curriculum director for Oak Harbor School District, who presented the test results at the board's Monday night meeting, said Tuesday the district was pleased overall with the test results. But we are not pleased with the writing results for grade 10, she said. Anytime we see results where trends go backward there is concern. Oak Harbor scores slipped from 49.2 percent of students who met the standard last year to 31.1 percent this year.We feel that our students are strong writers, Berner said, so we need to study that. We're going to look and see why fewer students met the standard state-wide and in the district.However, Berner was pleased with the progress shown in the grade four reading results. The district has set a goal of having 70 percent of fourth graders meeting the test standard in reading, and this year 67.6 percent did.The trends overall are good ones, she said. In places we are below the state average, but overall we are pleased with the results.Elsewhere in the state, some teachers have been critical of the intense focus the tests place on the subjects being tested and have expressed concerns that other subjects are suffering. Berner said she wasn't aware of Oak Harbor teachers being unhappy, but we have to be careful. You can get overly focused on those subjects. We don't stop teaching science or social studies, but there is pressure. It's a balancing act. [The test] subjects are important, but they should not be taught to the detriment of other areas. We're working hard to see that other subjects are not forgotten.Berner, too, said that there was still a long way to go to get the majority of students up to standard in the test subjects. She said that while the state seemed to be doing really well in reading, the math scores were still very low, with not even half the students meeting the standard. That will have to change fast. Oak Harbor School district aims to have 80 percent of its students meeting the test standards in all four areas by the year 2006.We are on track to meet those requirements, Berner said.But Jones expressed concern about how the district will find the money to provide students who are lagging with the extra help they need to raise their test scores. The district would like to be able to provide after-school and evening help for students, and more workbooks and resource materials for parents and teachers, she said. It would also like to be able to offer a longer elementary school day and lower the class sizes.We know what we should do, Jones said. But we don't have the money.In an effort to find more money for schools, Jones said that the board endorsed Initiative 728 at its Monday night meeting, which would bring in money from the lottery. We're looking everywhere we can for money from the state, the federal government and private sources, she said. Jones said it was also important for individual parents to know that they will be receiving a report of their child's test scores, and to talk to the child's teacher about what extra things are needed for their child.The tests are a waste of time if we do nothing but look at the scores, Jones said. The information needs to be used to help individual children improve.Are the tests actually improving the standard of education in local schools?Berner, Jones and Bond all agreed that they are. Absolutely, Bond said. I've been in education for 28 years and I've seen more conversation about teaching and learning ... than ever in the past. We're much more focused now about what kids should know and be able to do, on assessing that and then moving forward.She said the schools were starting to use individual test scores to tailor-make the instruction for specific children. The more data you have, the better you can teach.The tests made us take a long hard look at what we teach and how we teach it, Jones said, and that's good. They have also brought teachers from different disciplines together, from kindergarten to grade 12. That probably wouldn't have happened without the tests. Find out moreState test results for individual schools as well as all the state's school districts are available on the Internet at http://www.k12.wa.us. Test results for individual students will be released to schools and parents.------------You can reach Island Living editor June Vigor at jvigor@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611. "

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