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SWHS test scores beat state averages

LANGLEY — For the 13th year in a row, South Whidbey High School students outperformed the state average on standardized exams.

Washington state high school students take a standardized test called the High School Proficiency Exam (HSPE) every spring. Students during the 2009-2010 school year were tested on reading, writing and science, along with end of curriculum exams (EOC) which replaced the much-maligned WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning).

South Whidbey science scores improved the most, from 54.3 percent in 2009-2010 to 66.7 percent in 2010-11.

“I’m real pleased with our scores,” said South Whidbey principal John Patton. “You look at our math and science department and they really prepared our kids well.”

One of the school’s science teachers, Greg Ballog, agreed that preparing students to take the exam was important to improving their scores. However, he made a distinction between educating students and teaching them for a test.

“It’s fine to get good scores, but that’s not our focus,” Ballog said.

“What I do in the classroom isn’t for test scores. That’s a pretty shallow piece of it.”

Whatever the teachers’ opinion of standardized testing, their methods are working. Almost 67 percent of South Whidbey’s 10th grade science students passed the HSPE. That’s a 12 percent increase from the previous year’s scores, and a 23 percent increase from WASL scores in 2008-09.

Passing the science exam is still not a graduation requirement in Washington, and Ballog said once it becomes required, scores will improve because students will care more if their diplomas are on the line.

Math scores also increased. Algebra students passed at 74.4 percent and geometry students passed at 91.3 percent.

“We only had nine students not pass the geometry test out of 104,” said David Nelson, an algebra and statistics teacher. “I think that’s pretty remarkable.”

Math testing changed from the WASL in 2008-09 to the HSPE in 2009-10 to the EOC last year. Previously, both algebra and geometry were tested by 10th grade, whether students had taken both classes or not.

The EOC exams allow students to be tested near the end of each course, which improves scores. After-school tutoring and requiring students to pass it for graduation were also credited for the increases.

“This was the first year kids were actually held accountable,” Nelson said. “Kids took it more seriously and teachers stressed the importance throughout the semester.”

Overall, the local test scores were a mixed bag when compared to the previous testing period. Reading and writing scores declined.

Writing remained high at 92.4 percent of students passing, which is well above the 86 percent state average. Reading scores dropped to 85.8 percent, but were still higher than the 82.3 percent state average.

“That’s not something that alarms us,” Patton said. “It’s when you have high percentage gains or high percentage losses that you focus on it.”

South Whidbey’s reading scores have been in the high 80- to mid 90-percentages since 2005. Consistency is a key point of evaluation for the school’s new leader.

“As long as we’re around the same range, and we’re down a couple percentages, we’re not overly concerned, because it’s a new group that gets tested every year,” Patton said.

Literacy skills can be reinforced in most of the school’s classes, and a school-wide emphasis on that idea has stabilized those test scores.

“Obviously the English department is in the front lead of that,” Patton said. “Literacy is cross-curriculum; it’s part of every department.”

Teachers and administrators at the school said conveying the importance of the exams was crucial to the scores.

“We just want to make sure that we’re improving on every test score,” Patton said. “It’s something we’re striving to make better.”

Here is a link to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction's Washington State Report Card.

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