This year’s senior class has already improved on the WASL performance of students in the class of 2008.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson said in a press conference last week that “all boats are rising.” She noted that in the “progress report for the incoming seniors this year for the class of 2009, 86.4 percent have already met the requirement for reading and writing. This class is ahead of the game. That’s very exciting. The wonder of the class of 2008 is going to be repeated and improved as we move forward.”
This time last year, about 85 percent of the class of 2008 had passed the WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning). As of last week, 93 percent had passed the test, and Bergeson said that the majority of students who were seniors in 2007-08 who had to do more work this year to graduate were short on credits. She said that it was unusual for the WASL to prevent a student from graduating in the spring.
Meanwhile, students starting 11th grade this fall have also done well, with 75.4 percent meeting standard and some 20 percent of students in the class of 2011 passing portions of the WASL last year as freshmen.
“We gave the approval for ninth-graders to take any of the tests they were ready for, and twice as many took them this year,” Bergeson said. “One out of every five students in the ninth grade has already met standard.”
Bergeson praised the staff at Martin Sortun Elementary in the Kent School District as an example of how a total team effort can achieve results.
“They were a school of distinction this year,” Bergeson said. “They have increased the standards of a school that is grades kindergarten through six. It’s across the board, just a magnificent performance.”
She added that principal Greg Kroll attributed it to a team effort to help get kids up to speed on the WASL. Students start taking the test in third grade and test every year through 10th grade, so during test time in April, four grades at Martin Sortun are testing.
This year’s 11th-graders in the Kent district met standard near the state average, with 79.1 percent and 84.2 passing in reading and writing, respectively.
Bob Isenberg, director of assessment for the Kent School District, said that not only is the district pleased with its WASL scores, but those are affirmed by significant increase in Kent students’ SAT scores, which were released last week, as well.
Isenberg said schools are looking at patterns that emerge from the data, and individual buildings are revising school improvement plans to keep what’s working and either fix or get rid of what doesn’t work.
“The other approach we’re using is that we’re doing a lot of training at the elementary and secondary level that has really kicked in this year for classroom-based assessments,” he said. “So teachers really know what kind of interventions we need to do. We can’t do anything about outside factors, so we focused on what we can do by looking at our intervention model.”
Tahoma School District officials said they’re pleased with the continued high levels of performance of their students, who in many categories had higher passage rates on the WASL than the state average.
Dawn Wakeley, associate director of teacher and learning for the Tahoma district, said there’s a fair amount that can be learned from the scores.
“The piece that I would say is the take away for us is that we continue to make steady progress with our kids,” Wakeley said. “That’s a celebration for us.”
At this point, 92.7 percent and 91.8 of this year’s Tahoma juniors have passed the reading and writing sections of the WASL, respectively. Those who haven’t passed all or portions of the test will have at least two more opportunities to meet standard.
“It doesn’t mean that we’re necessarily up in every single content area in every single grade level,” Wakeley said. “But if you look at the trend lines, they’re positive just like we would hope they would be.”
Wakeley said the goal is to get to 100 percent meeting standard so they will continue to work toward that by keeping up the work done with the students who have passed as well as put more time into helping kids who are struggling.
One thing they’re trying to do with the data is to evaluate all the different methods they’ve used to intervene with kids who are having trouble passing the WASL to look at what’s working well so they can figure out what makes those methods work.
“We’re trying to be very focused in understanding what that extra time and support looks like for kids and at all the things we’ve been trying and implement those successful practices across all our schools,” Wakeley said. “We’re definitely to the point in our system where because we have fairly strong numbers overall that we’re really able to focus on individual kids and thinking about individual kids need.”
Kevin Patterson, a district spokesman, said it’s important to remember that the emphasis in Tahoma isn’t solely on WASL scores. He said that when teachers help prepare students with the skills they need to succeed in a fast-paced, high-tech 21st century job market, then the WASL numbers will follow.
A measure of success in that regard “is that we get an inordinate amount of Tahoma graduates that come back here to work (in the district) because they really believe in what we’re doing here,” Patterson said.
Having passionate teachers and staff has been key in Tahoma’s success, Wakeley said.
“They care so much about the performance of our kids, and while they are looking at the overall numbers, teachers are hungry to see how the individual kids do because they care about every kid,” Wakeley said. “When they see the student results and it’s the kid they’ve struggled alongside and they see where those kids have become successful or even if they’ve just missed the mark, you just feel all those pieces with them.”
Isenberg, the Kent School District official, said it’s important to make sure teachers are set up for success, because that leads to success for kids.
“It boils down to making sure teachers in the classrooms have the tools,” he said. “They certainly bring the energy and the professionalism.”