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Island schools get high marks

A new school year and a fresh batch of test scores are giving the Bainbridge Island School District a chance to compare its aptitude against state and federal standards.

Overall, the results look good, especially for the high school students who took the new state math exams that will become a graduation requirement for the Class of 2013. The state released the initial results on Aug. 30 for a number of state assessments.

“Teachers worked really hard last year on aligning our curriculum and making sure students understood the targets,” said Julie Goldsmith, assistant superintendent for BISD. “We were very anxious for the results and we are really excited.”

The new end-of-course (EOC) exams administered last spring were the first time students in algebra one and geometry took state exams at the end of their courses instead of the traditional high school comprehensive math exam. Students passed the algebra test at a rate of 93 percent, and geometry at a rate of 97 percent.

Current sophomores at Bainbridge Island High School (BHS) will have to pass one of the two tests to earn a diploma, and the Class of 2015 will have to pass both of the tests to graduate.

Though the EOC scores are impressive, BISD, including the individual schools of Ordway Elementary and BHS, did not make the annual progress mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB); specifically, the students in special education reading at grades 3-5 and grade 10. The success in state standards, but setbacks in federal standards are a conundrum that is facing schools and districts all over  the state of Washington.

One of the requirements through NCLB is that states develop a baseline or starting point for proficiency through math and reading scores, and use that standard to “raise the bar” in gradual increments so that by 2014 100 percent of the students achieve the standard in math and reading.

An increasing percentage of students in subgroups such as low-income, special education and minorities year-over-year must also reach that standard. The percentage of students required to meet the standard jumped from 74 percent to approximately 88 percent this year in order to meet the federal “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP) list.

The students in special education didn’t meet the standard at grades three through five and 10 for reading, and therefore the district, BHS and Ordway were categorized as not making AYP.

Schools across the state are impacted by the all-or-nothing criteria. More than 200 new schools were added to the list of now 1,3888 or 64 percent of statewide schools that didn’t make AYP.

“Our special education students who are diagnosed with a disability and given an individual education plan, have to take the same test as the rest of the fourth grade students,” Goldsmith said.

BISD met the criteria in 53 of its 55 categories. Goldsmith said it’s difficult to hold every student to uniform standards regardless of background.

“Even if students have been in the country for only a few months and they take the test then their [score] counts and is held to the same standard,” said Goldsmith. “My own preference is that I want to be held accountable for individual growth of the special ed students and the english learning students and measure their growth by a different standard.”

Goldsmith’s concerns echo that of State Supt. of Public Instruction Randy Dorn, who warned against too much emphasis on the the AYP lists and federal NCLB standards.

Dorn encouraged members of Congress to reform the NCLB, which has turned into a “punishment” bill instead of a “growth” bill where schools are given harsh penalties for failing to meet unfair standards, he said.

By 2014, NCLB mandates a 100 percent passing rate for all students, and issues sanctions for those unable to do so based on a series of steps. The Obama administration has stated its intentions to reform parts of the NCLB penalties, but no changes have been made formally.

BHS and Ordway have one year to make the AYP list, and if they are unable to do so they will be placed in the first step of a school labeled as “in improvement.” Sanctions are issued at various steps every year that schools fail to make the list.

Sanctions range from improvement plans for targeted sub-groups to allowing parents to transfer their students to forcing individual schools to be restructured.

In the Issaquah School District, for example, 44 percent of the schools are labeled as failing while 36 percent of the schools in the Lake Washington district didn’t make the federal standard.

Goldsmith said that BISD has been fortunate to avoid those realities as its schools have kept close pace with federal requirements.

“We have high quality schools and we are finding new assessments to measure our academic performance,” said Goldsmith.

Test progress

This year, high school students will also take a biology EOC, which will replace the High School Proficiency Exam (HSPE) in science. This test will also become a graduation requirement. Goldsmith said she does not yet know if the reading HSPE will be replaced with an EOC.

After three years of the EOC exams the school district will be able to asses trend data and more accurately discern BISD as compared with other districts, Goldsmith said.

In the next few weeks, BISD will look at scores as compared with districts of similar demographics such as Mercer Island, Lake Washington and Issaquah. Individual student scores have not yet been released to parents, but are forthcoming.

The state also released the scores for the Measurements of Student Progress (MSP) and the HSPE. Bainbridge schools compared favorably against overall state averages, often 10-20 percentage points higher.

• Students in grades five and eight were assessed on the state’s new science benchmark for the first time in 2011. Grade five passed with 85 percent, grade eight with 89 percent.

• Math MSP was administered for the second time for grades three to eight. Scores increased for grades two, four, six and seven and decreased for grades three and eight.

• Reading MSP scores fluctuated. Grades four, five and six showed improvement while grades three, seven and eight did not.

• Test scores were significantly lower this year in writing, according to a BIPD press release. Grades four and seven are tested in writing and scored at 79 and 81 percent respectively.

• Reading scores in the HSPE improved with 95 percent of students meeting the standard. Writing scores also improved at the high school level with 97 percent of the students meeting standard.

Click here to read the Bainbridge Island School District testing report card.

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