Sports

South Whidbey test scores drop at lower grade levels

LANGLEY — State tests results for elementary and middle school students have left South Whidbey School District officials with plenty of problems and few solutions.

“I have lots and lots of questions,” said District Superintendent Jo Moccia.

Moccia presented the testing data from the 2010-2011 school year to the South Whidbey School Board on Wednesday and scores are down. From third to eighth grade, only two classes — third and sixth grade students — improved reading scores from the 2010 Measurements of Student Progress. Even that had the district concerned, because scores differed wildly from year to year.

In third grade, 82.5 percent of students passed the reading exam. In fourth grade, the percent plummeted to 56, which is almost a 16-percent decrease from 2010’s results.

Reading scores did not break 80 percent again until 10th grade, while most scores hovered in the 60- and 70-percent range.

“The students have the skill,” Moccia said. “Perhaps we’re not addressing the right issue until 10th grade.”

With insufficient gains in reading scores, South Whidbey Elementary School and Langley Middle School did not meet “adequate yearly progress” — a benchmark for academic achievement in the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Washington adopted the rules to raise the bar for reading and mathematics proficiency every year, with the federal goal of 100 percent student proficiency by the 2013-2014 school year.

District officials said the effects of failing to meet the required progress were not yet known. However, Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction website specifies that schools which do not make adequate yearly progress for two years are put on a school improvement plan.

South Whidbey has missed the mark for two years.

Though the scores missed the state’s mark for improvement, many were better than the state averages.

But Moccia said that should be an expectation, and she wanted to compare South Whidbey to similar districts — based on population, ethnicity, the number of free and reduced lunches offered, the amount spent per student and other factors — such as La Center and Vashon Island.

South Whidbey has the highest population, highest percent of reduced lunches and the highest cost per student among the three districts.

In reading, South Whidbey only outperformed the other districts in third grade scores, while Vashon had the best results in the fourth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

The picture was similar for math scores. South Whidbey again only outperformed in third grade results at 64.9 percent, while Vashon led in five grades.

“What I want to know is, what are we spending our money on?” Moccia asked.

“We know we’re lean, we know we don’t have a lot of money, but obviously other districts are in a similar boat.”

School Board Member Fred O’Neal wanted to see the grade-to-grade comparison over several years.

“It’d be nice to string together like four or five years of that,” O’Neal said. “For example, if we found year after year after year students were doing well in third grade, and then at the end of fourth grade they’re not doing well, then there’s a couple things you’ve got to look at.”

“Are the materials not meeting the needs of what the tests are after? If we have a case where teaching staff hadn’t changed, and we still got those results, that’s what you’d have to expect.”

Moccia and the school board will share the test results with teachers, as well as year-to-year comparisons, so school officials can better understand how the curriculum aligns with state standards and how it should be adjusted to improve scores.

Even some improvements noted in the recent scores got a close look by the board.

Science scores at the elementary school nearly doubled to 50 percent in fifth grade. The scores are still six points below the state average, however, and the discrepancy caused some board members to ask elementary school principal Jamie Boyd about the science curriculum adopted a few years ago.

“It’s a very hands-on, very interactive and inquiry based,” Boyd said.

“So it challenges the children to think about how they know what they know … it’s made a profound impact.”

The cumulative decline in South Whidbey’s scores raised more questions for the district’s leader.

“The snapshot, I’m sure, does not leave you warm and proud,” Moccia said to the board. “What does leave you proud is where we’re going.”

The board and the administrative staff will meet at a workshop on school improvement Oct. 12.

“Hopefully by the time we talk to you next year, it’ll be a different picture in a positive direction,” Moccia said.

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