School district leadership addresses drop in test scores

John Patton presents the school improvement plan for South Whidbey High School during a school board workshop Wednesday.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
John Patton presents the school improvement plan for South Whidbey High School during a school board workshop Wednesday.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — School and district leaders on

South Whidbey took the first formal step in addressing the failure to meet state-mandated student test score progress this week.

District Superintendent Jo Moccia and school principals presented drafts of their school improvement plans Wednesday night at a school board workshop.

The district has used the plans for the past 10 years, but is under scrutiny after failing to meet adequate yearly progress, a state benchmark based on standardized test scores from the High School Proficiency Exam, Measurements of Student Progress and End of Course exams.

As part of the district’s plan, Moccia will create a set of short- and long-term goals and prioritize effective programs. For the coming year, Moccia’s draft to improve student test scores includes analyzing student test score data and evaluating how the district allocates its resources, specifically to effective programs. Guaranteeing money is being put into programs that work was important to the board as well.

“If this is an issue, then we have to revisit how we allocate our resources,” said Board Chairman Rich Parker.

Where the money goes depends on knowing which programs, such as a literacy coach or math intervention for at-risk students, are more effective than others. That depends on data provided by the principals, which was not included in any of the three schools’ first draft reports.

Justifying program expenses was a theme throughout the reports, driven by Parker.

“The correlation has to be made … that somehow the community, the board and the staff can look at and understand,” Parker said.

Each school also had an improvement plan with four goals with outlined expected benefits to students.

The goals were tailored to address the school’s deficiencies and reach the district’s goal to have 100 percent of graduates career and college ready by 2020.

South Whidbey’s math and science scores are the most concerning test topic for the board. Less than 75 percent of students passed the algebra exam, and 91.3 percent passed the geometry test.

The math test, taken in 10th grade, has changed three times in the past four years. Washington transitioned from the Washington Assessment of Student Learning to the High School Proficiency Exam to the End of Curriculum exam. Previous math scores jumped from 43.7 percent to 74.4.

The frequent changes made comparing and analyzing the scores a challenge.

“We don’t really have a benchmark to compare it to yet, so that’s something we’re grappling with as a staff,” said South Whidbey High School principal John Patton.

Science had the lowest pass percent at 66.7. Part of the problem, Patton said, was that passing the state’s science exam is not a graduation requirement.

Even the strong points of the high school’s report card had blemishes. Patton noted a trend that reading proficiency dropped 3.3 percent, while the state average increased 3.5.

“Our staff really had an outcry of, ‘How can we support our students more?’” Patton said.

To improve that score, Patton said a literacy coach was hired to work with ninth-and 10th-grade English students. He also proposed a school-wide initiative for teachers to be responsible for reinforcing quality writing through the district’s six traits: ideas, organization, voice, sentence fluency, word choice and conventions.

“We’re a six-trait writing district and we haven’t talked about it for years,” he said.

Math was also a concern at Langley Middle School.

The percent of students testing at a proficient level in 2010 plummets from 75.9 in sixth grade, to 59.2 in seventh grade and finally, 40.9 in eighth grade.

“We feel like we need a lot of work, particularly in math,” said  Jack Terhar, middle school dean of students.

Langley Middle School principal Eric Nerison was attending a family emergency, so Terhar reported the school’s plan.

Terhar said LMS is on the right path by assigning math classes by level, rather than grade.

Only eighth-grade students are tested on the End of Course exam, which the district’s leaders claim is a better model because it tests students at the end of the year, so more time is allotted for the material to be taught and reinforced.

“It’s created some interesting dynamics because you can have a level two math class with eighth-, seventh- and sixth-graders in it,” Terhar said.

Remediation, or holding back students from the next grade, was also questioned at the meeting.

Only two students were remediated.

“It makes a big difference because our students see those kids who were held back,” Terhar said. “It’s a small school so you know who’s who.”


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