Student test scores soar

"The test results are in, and the Bainbridge Island school district is happy.The much-awaited results of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning test were released this week, showing general improvement in reading, math and writing across the state.Bainbridge Island was no exception, showing some dramatic jumps - percentages of Woodward Middle School students passing the standardized writing portion of the test jumped from from 46.9 percent to 80.1 percent.What can you say? said Bruce Weiland, president of the school board. We are very, very pleased. The standardized test is required for fourth, seventh and 10th graders in Washington public schools.Bainbridge 10th-graders led the state in both reading and writing, trailed only Mercer Island in math, and placed fifth in listening.I'm proud of the parents, I'm proud of the teachers, but most of all, I'm proud of the kids for doing such a great job on this, echoed Dave Ellick, Bainbridge High School principal.Though some lambast the standardized test, Bainbridge school officials stressed its importance to the students. Ellick told high school students to think of the WASL as a bar exam.Whether it's fair or whether it's not fair, Ellick told the sophomores, there are mileposts that colleges and other organizations give to assess your ability.A contributing factor to the improved scores, Weiland and Ellick agreed, was the students' seriousness.Weiland compared the WASL to the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), but without the years of tradition and refinement that make the SAT an honored measure of student knowledge.The WASL is still finding its sea-legs, he said. It always takes awhile for people to take these things seriously and give it their all.One concern voiced by critics is the risk of shifting curriculum, especially electives, to teach the test. Administrators say, however, that they remain dedicated to the breadth of the Bainbridge Island curriculum.It's important with our staff to ask 'Are there ways within our existing curriculum to help us?' Ellick said. I think yes. The bottom line is, the BHS curriculum is deeper than the test.Superintendent Steve Rowley said the district both is and isn't teaching to the test.The revolution in education over the past decade, he said, has been shifting curriculum away from simple fact-based education and into development of skills and analytical abilities.Math is not just computation, Rowley said. It's complex problem-solving and communicating and that's the drumroll of these tests. We teach to the test the same way the band teacher teaches to the performance, he said. Is the coach teaching to the game? You can't just do drills and never scrimmage.The WASL test remains, officially, a mandatory bar for graduation. Rowley, however, believes that by 2008 - the first time students will be denied a diploma if they do not pass the test - the requirement, though not the test, will be dropped.The ongoing educational debate on learning styles, Rowley said, allows for a greater range of intelligences than the language and logic the WASL is based on.But he still celebrates the high scores.We feel very good about the increases and, ideally, we'd like everyone to pass, he said. But that isn't happening, and we need to continue to look at who's not passing.Ellick agreed, and noted that this year's cause for celebration may be another year's cause for worry.The WASL is a case of 'You live by the sword, you die by the sword,' he said. But all things being equal, I'd just as soon have higher scores than lower scores. "

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