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Island students ace WASL again

Scores continue to rise despite some sophomores’ refusal to take the test.

Bainbridge WASL scores added up, even minus students.

According to results released by the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Thursday, the island school district ranked in the top five districts in the state in most categories and most grades.

Instituted statewide in 1997, the Washington Assessment of Student Learning tests students’ competence in reading, writing, math and “listening.”

Even factoring in zeros from the 35 sophomores who didn’t take the 2003 test, Bainbridge 10th graders were first in the state in reading, nudging Mercer Island from the top rung.

Gains were also made by Bainbridge fourth-graders, who placed first statewide in reading, with 88.2 percent passing the WASL, while Woodward seventh-grade students came in second statewide in both reading and math.

“I think we’re very pleased with the overall performance and the progress our students and teachers continue to make,” Associate Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Faith Chapel said.

Bainbridge was one of the 88 districts among the 296 statewide that met federal standards for “Adequate Yearly Progress” in reading and math, measured at the district level for the first time this year.

Wilkes Elementary School showed especially strong gains in writing, moving from 79.1 percent passing the test in 2001-02 to 91.8 percent for 2002-03.

Wilkes Elementary School’s gains in writing may be footnoted to writing workshops some teachers attended, Chapel believes, while gains in math may be attributed, in part, to new math curricula instituted in all district schools last year.

Studying questions from the 2002 test, released by the state to teachers at all three grade levels, may also have helped students prepare for the 2003 WASL, Chapel said.

Another test released to the schools this week also showed improvement in math; 11th- and 12th-grade SAT scores had female students closing the “math gap” with male counterparts from 60 points in 1999 to just seven points for the 2003 test.

Test and protest

Despite the high marks, concerns remain about the effects of student protest against WASL testing.

Of the 341 sophomores required to take the test, 14 “refuseniks” filed formal letters with the district declaring their intent not to take the WASL. Other simply did not show up to test. Altogether, 35 didn’t take the reading test, 29 passed up the math, 35 did not take the writing test and 37 missed the “listening” WASL.

“The law gives them the right to do so,” Chapel said. “I don’t think they intended to lower the scores overall. They were making a statement of personal belief. However, it does have a net impact.”

Statewide, 1.5 percent of 10th-graders refused to participate in the test, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. “Our refusal rate is higher than that,” Chapel said. “For us, it’s significant.”

Some 20 districts across the state had more than a dozen 10th-grade students in a school formally refuse to take the test.

The WASLs don’t become a state-mandated requirement for high-school graduation until spring 2008, but they are seen by colleges now; on Bainbridge, scores are stapled to students’ transcripts.

According to then-assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Brent Peterson, stapling scores was begun in 1998, the second year of WASL testing, to “communicate to parents and students that this is a serious and important assessment tool.” The step was taken in consultation with the high school site council, Peterson said.

What weight the scores are given by colleges evaluating applicants is unknown, nor do Bainbridge school officials know whether the practice of attaching WASL scores is widespread.

Aiming for 100

Bainbridge scores must continue the upward trend next year to meet AYP goals mandated by the federal “No Child Left Behind” measure that became law last year.

AYP compliance is determined by a complex set of factors that range from school attendance to demographics.

By 2013-14, 100 percent of all students must reach goals in reading and math. To make AYP every year between now and then, Bainbridge students must stay above a state-defined uniform bar that rises 5.8 percentage points per year.

Since 100 percent translates to every single student performing up to par, the closer to the mark, the harder it may become to gain points.

“Granted, it is very challenging to move from 93 to 95 percent to get those last few students,” Chapel said.

“But I do think it is a goal that all of us should aspire to; it’s a core value, that every student be able to meet high standards.”

Another question is just what the standards should be for limited-English and special-needs students.

Such issues are likely to be addressed, Chapel points out, as the WASL tests and AYP continue to be re-evaluated each year.

In one such upcoming refinement, the “listening” WASL designed to gauge students’ ability to take a verbally administered test – a test that generated controversially variable scores – will be discontinued for 2003-04.

Over the next weeks, teachers will use WASL data to help assess programming, and parents will receive their students’ individual scores.

“I think the value of the test is that it gives a tool we can use to assess students’ performance,” Chapel said, “both within the district and statewide.”

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