September 14, 1998
Northshore 4th graders score higher than state averages
by Andrew Walgamott
A blizzard of numbers blew out of Olympia and local school district headquarters last week after the state Superintendent of Public Instruction released results from last spring's Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) test of fourth and seventh graders.
Shoveling through the drifts of numerals, percentages and comparisons, there is both good and bad news for the Northshore School District.
As a whole, more of last year's Northshore fourth graders met or bested state standards in nearly all categories of the WASL than the previous class.
And district seventh graders topped state averages by at least 11 percent in their first year of taking the reading, writing, listening and math tests.
But the bad news is that less than half of Northshore, and state, fourth and seventh graders met standards in math or writing. In fact, fourth-graders dropped 10 percentage points in writing from the year before.
And only 30 percent of Northshore fourth-graders met or beat standards on all four subjects, (20.8 percent of seventh graders did similarly).
The numbers will be broken down further as the district continues to analyze how to help students who need it.
Teaching to the test
Meanwhile, Northshore has already begun implementing curriculum that officials hope will better prepare students for the 21st Century.
"We have a new math adoption at the elementary level that we think will better meet the standards, and better meet the questions on the WASL," said Patti Weber, assistant director of assessments.
"Every Day Math," introduced last year, and new language arts studies this year were chosen because of their alignment with standards, district officials say.
The district has also implemented the Teachers On Special Assignment program this school year. A team of teachers will work with their peers at the elementary and junior high level on strategies to test and assess students, according to Dr. Pamela Katims Steele, district communications director.
"Are we teaching to the test? I would say yes, to some extent. We're really teaching to the standards," Steele said.
Asked how long it would be before the new curriculum affected test scores, Weber said, "It will take time to get all the students up to standard. It won't be overnight. We think we're on track, but there's still work to do."
Pleased, yet puzzled
Steele said the district was generally pleased with results.
"We are very pleased with the progress made by fourth grade students on three of the four tests," said Steele. "But we are puzzled by a decline in writing scores. We dropped 10 percent, but that's the trend in the state."
"The form of writing was very difficult for them," Steele said for the fourth graders. "They were asked to write a business letter."
- Fourth graders meeting state standards in reading rose 8.5 percent over last year to 75.6 percent, jumped 15.2 percent to 49.8 percent in math and increased 8.7 percent to 82.6 percent in listening.
- While statewide writing scores dipped 5.5 percent to 36.7 percent, only 49.3 percent of Northshore students met standard, a drop of 10 points from a year ago.
She said it was one of eight forms that students could have been asked about. "The reality is that to ask fourth graders to be fluent in eight forms of writing is not realistic."
Northshore outdistanced the state average in reading by 20 percent, 11.3 percent in listening and 17.6 percent in math.
Hollywood Hill Elementary near Woodinville had the most meeting or exceeding reading (91.4) and math (85.2) standards, while Sunrise Elementary to the south had 65.6 percent meeting writing standards and Wellington Elementary in town had 92.6 percent equaling or topping listening standards.
By comparison, Woodin Elementary fourth-graders were nearly 40 percentage points behind pace setters in all categories except listening.
Steele said no single factor led to variations in district scores.
"Research shows students in poverty don't do as well on tests as those in affluent homes," she said.
"But I don't think you can point your finger at any one factor. There are a lot of variables that affect a school's score, such as the number of students in free and reduced lunch, special needs, gifted and English as a Second Language programs," Steele said .
Standards for next century
The WASL is different from the fill-in-the-bubble true-false and multiple choice tests of the past. Students are now asked to apply their knowledge by writing descriptive essays, comparing information from different texts, using math skills to solve complex problems, and explaining the steps they took to arrive at an answer.
"The WASL measures what we want-the ability to problem solve, think critically, listen, retain information and write in different forms," Weber, Northshore's assistant director of assessments, said.
Results show whether the child met, exceeded or failed to meet state standards, and tracks the child, and school, from year to year.
The tests are a result of educational reforms calling for higher academic standards in core subjects and are designed to better prepare students for the 21st century.
Terry Bergesen, state school Superintendent, commented in a speech posted to the Office of Public Instruction's website.
"Low expectations cheat kids, and ultimately society...The society of the 21st century will require much more of our young people. The Education Improvement Act of 1993 was passed by our legislature to help kids address these challenges. Since 1993, thousands of Washington educators and citizens have worked together to determine the skills and knowledge students will need in tomorrow's world. They drafted clear academic standards called Essential Academic Learning Requirements that are now at the heart of what schools are teaching and students are learning across our state."
First year for 7th graders
Steele said Northshore seventh-grade results weren't all that different from last year's fourth graders, this being the first time the junior high students took it.
"This year's seventh grade tests give us baseline data as did last year's fourth-grade results," she said.
Timbercrest Junior High had the highest percentage of students meeting standard of the district's six middle schools in reading, math and listening.
Across the board, an average of 57 percent met or exceeded reading standards, 45.3 did so in writing, 33.5 in math and 91.2 in listening.