September 22, 1997
Northshore 4th graders test above state averages
by Andrew Walgamott
NORTHSHORE--Test results for local fourth graders far exceeded state averages as well as school district expectations. Across Washington, less than half of the 68,000 fourth grade students tested via the new Criterion Reference Test last spring met or exceeded standards in the three Rs, reading, writing and arithmetic. State officials called the results "dismal."
But in Northshore, more than half of students met and exceeded standards in reading and writing, and beat state scores in math by 13.1 percentage points. Dr. Pamela Steele, Northshore School District communications director, said that the district traditionally scored above state averages on tests but was quick to point out last year's test wasn't similar to past tests.
The new test is different than the fill-in-the-bubble CTBS tests, a previous marker of student achievement. The new tests require students to explain steps they take to reach an answer. The tests ask students to apply their knowledge by writing descriptive essays, comparing information from different texts and using math skills to solve complex problems.
"They're asking for some pretty complex thinking, extrapolation and deductive reasoning," Steele said.
Across the board, last year's fourth graders beat state averages in core subjects. Academic standards were set by fourth grade teachers and school administrators. According to numbers released by Northshore, 67.1 percent of area fourth graders met or exceeded standards in reading, topping the state average (47.6 percent) by 19.5 percentage points.
Local students also scored well above standards in writing, with 59.3 percent meeting or exceeding standards, compared to 42.2 percent state-wide. Northshore kids did comparatively well in math skills, compared to state numbers, but the mass fell far below standard. Locally, only 34.6 percent met or beat standards, as opposed to a lowly 21.5 percent state-wide.
Students across the board scored high in listening. Nearly 74 percent of Northshore 4th graders exceeded standards. Nearly 62 percent state-wide passed standards.
Fourth graders at Sunrise Elementary in English Hill paced Northshore with 58.1 percent besting math standards, and 79 percent topping reading and writing marks. Students at Moorlands in Kenmore scored lowest with only 19.5 percent meeting math standards and 56.3 passing reading standards.
Steele cited differences in school populations, and special programs such as gifted and English as a Second Language classes as cause of some variances in scores. She said test scores improved with length of stay in the district as well.
By comparison, several local private schools blew away even Northshore's high scores. All Woodinville Montessori fourth graders topped reading standards. Ninety percent of students at Bothell's Evergreen Academy met and exceeded reading, writing and listening standards.
But private schools tend to have fewer students and draw student from single socioeconomic groups, critics point out.
A test for the 21st century
Gov. Gary Locke and State Superintendent of Schools Terry Bergeson said the tests will prepare students for the next century. "We have a steep mountain to climb in the next few years to bring all of our students up to the skills and knowledge they'll need in the 21st Century, but there is no other option," Gov. Gary Locke said.
Superintendent of Public Education Terry Bergeson said headway had already been made in learning which was sparked by the 1993 Education Improvement Act.
"We moved from the agrarian society of Thomas Jefferson to the industrial nation of Edison, Carnegie and Ford. Now we are looking to the age of Gates, McCaw and Condit, where education and learning are the critical resources. They are the difference between barely making it and getting on the path to the American dream. We must make certain that all Washington children have a chance to get on that path. To do that, we must raise our expectations for all kids and hold ourselves accountable for the results," Bergeson said.
The 1993 reforms called for higher academic standards in core subjects, tests to measure student progress against standards at the fourth, seventh and tenth grades, and a system to hold school districts accountable for helping students meet standards.
Strategies to improve
Northshore School Superintendent Karen Forys said the scores weren't as high as the CTBS results.
"We weren't expecting them to be. Teachers need time to work with the new standards. They need time to determine appropriate and accurate methods to assess our students knowledge and their ability to apply that knowledge. Students need time to understand what's truly expected of them. And parents need time to understand the most effective ways to help their children reach these new standards," Forys said.
"We are proud of how well our students performed on these very difficult tests. We now have reliable data to use as a baseline. Knowing the location of the start line and the finish line makes the road to travel much easier to follow," Forys said.
Steele echoed the sentiment, saying "The schools will be working among themselves to share strategies that have been proven effective. There's no reason that can't happen between districts."
Northshore has begun an aggressive campaign to educate parents about the new tests. Mailings will go out from the PTA and school principals.
In the near future, 7th and 10th graders will begin taking similar tests, Steele said.