South Whidbey schools aim to improve test scores, image

South Whidbey School Board Member Jill Engstrom listens to Bayview School Director David Pfeiffer during an update of the school’s improvement plans.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
South Whidbey School Board Member Jill Engstrom listens to Bayview School Director David Pfeiffer during an update of the school’s improvement plans.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — Enrollment, funding, staffing and test scores all need to improve in the South Whidbey School District, principals and board members agreed.

The five principals and superintendent reported their efforts to improve the district and achieve its mission and goals of “career and college ready” students.

Until this year’s test scores are released in August, the principals told the school board about the work and programs their staffs initiated to increase standardized test scores like the district writing assessment, end of course exams, high school proficiency exams and measurements of student progress, which replaced the WASL a few years ago.

The low scores that proved worrisome from last year will improve in time, said District Superintendent Jo Moccia.

“It’s a process,” she said.

In addition to test scores, at least one district parent expressed her concern about the image of Bayview School. South Whidbey’s alternative high school is being closed and consolidated to the South Whidbey Primary Campus, where it will be a kindergarten through 12th grade alternative school with a new name: South Whidbey Academy. Miriam Coates urged Moccia and the board to craft a new identity for the new school, one apart from the stigma attached to its predecessor, as a place for students who smoke during passing period and on-the-cusp dropouts.

“The district has to get a handle on the face of the new academy,” Coates said.

The school district has worked to redefine the culture at its only alternative school. New brochures have been printed, Moccia said, but some of its history, like the historic Bayview school bell, will live on at the new location.

“We have done a lot of work rebranding that school,” Moccia said.

“We still have to allow Bayview to do the honor of transitioning. There’s some closure there.”

South Whidbey’s schools faced the most test score problems in its elementary and middle school. Only two grades made sufficient gains in reading from the 2010-2011 school year in the measurements of student progress, which tests students from third to eighth grade. The district missed its proficiency goal in reading at South Whidbey Elementary School, with only 56.7 percent of fourth graders passing, while 83.5 percent of third graders and 80.3 percent of fifth grade students passed. 

South Whidbey Elementary School Principal Jamie Boyd, who resigned her position in March, said the staff asked itself a series of questions during the year. If the district’s writing assessment scores are any indicator, the elementary school is on the rise. This year, third grade scores averaged 3.7 out of 4.0, fourth grade scores increased to 3.45 and fifth grade had a slight decline to 3.28. Those scores bode well for the future of the district, too; one of the district’s goals is to have 100 percent of eighth grade students scoring at least a 3.2 on the district writing assessment.

Langley Middle School barely missed the mark for improving its sixth to eighth grade reading scores last year. Students in seventh grade had the lowest pass rate at 68.3, followed by eighth graders at 73.4 and sixth graders at 80.4 percent.

Math scores for eighth graders dropped to 51.6 percent. Almost half of eighth grade students last year failed to pass the math proficiency exam. Langley Middle School Principal Eric Nerison said the school will revise its leveling system for math to align with the common core, which groups students by grade into math classes. Eighth grade students, for example, should be in pre-algebra and algebra courses. The new system has its problems, however.

“It will be difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile our leveling plan with the common core,” Nerison said.

Reading scores also took a hit at the middle school. Both seventh and eight grade scores dropped, which led Nerison and the middle school teachers to begin cross-curriculum education. Students were required to journal in classes beyond English, such as physical education and science. Next year, Langley Middle School will have a daily 40-minute “enrichment” period for students to receive assistance, or “intervention” for struggling students. Scores from this year’s state exams will help the school populate the enrichment period classes.

“The logistics of how we’ll fit that in have yet to be figured out,” said Nerison, adding that there will only be one lunch and a shortened passing time next year.

“What we want to provide is some intervention around reading and conferencing about what they’re reading.”

South Whidbey High School met its progress and proficiency goals in math and reading in the 2010-2011 school year. Principal John Patton said the school used small groups for struggling students who were identified at the start of the current school year by principals, counselors and teachers. He also highlighted the use of double-blocked English in ninth grade for remediation and requiring math and science classes to answer questions in complete answers rather than shorthand, as simple ways to include reading and writing beyond a single course.

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