Bainbridge vaults to top of WASLs

If Bainbridge High School wants to wave a big foam finger and shout “We’re number one,” now’s the time.

When scores on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning are adjusted to delete students who didn’t take the test, BHS 10th-graders come in ahead of its traditional rivals, which could possibly make the Spartan sophomores the best in the state.

“This is important, especially to the teachers, but also to the students and parents,” said Associate Superintendent Faith Chapel, “because it shows that we are adequately preparing the students.”

Students who decline to take the WASL receive scores of zero, so each decliner is treated as a student not meeting the state standards.

With those students included in the reporting pool, the percentage of students meeting state standards was 89 percent in listening, 86 percent in both reading and writing, 76 percent in mathematics and only 58 percent on the new and ostensibly voluntary science test.

But because an unusually large number of BHS sophs opted out of the science test, Chapel tried to ascertain the pass rate of those students who actually took the exam.

What she found was stunning. Of those who actually tested, the percentage meeting the reading and writing standards jumped to 95 and 94 respectively, while 82 percent met the math standard and 73 percent the science standard.

Then Chapel dug out comparable data for the schools with similar demographics to which BHS traditionally compares itself – Mercer Island, Newport in Bellevue and Skyline in Issaquah, all of which have generally finished at or near the top in regional and statewide WASL results.

BHS led the pack in both reading and writing, finished second in science, and tied for second in math. And on a composite-score basis, BHS, which generally finishes a tick behind Mercer Island on the test results, was indeed Number One.

It’s an apples-to-apples comparison, Chapel said – measuring the results of the tested BHS students against the tested students from the other schools.

What she could not determine, she said, was exactly how BHS fared on a regional or statewide basis.

“The way the information is presented on the web site, you can get the scores for the students tested for each school, but you can only do it one school at a time.

“What I did was find the data for the schools that were reported in the newspaper as having higher science scores than BHS, and pulled out the information for those schools.”

Chapel thinks the higher scores are a more accurate reflection of BHS academics than the raw scores that include the test-decliners.

“They are very bright students,” she said. “They presented their objections to the test in a very articulate manner. I believe the results from those who actually took the tests are not artificially inflated.”

The issue with the science test, Chapel said, is that because it was labelled voluntary, the school did not particularly encourage students to take it, and in fact, scheduled it during the social-studies class period. As a result, some 40 fewer students took that test than the other WASL sections.

“It took us a bit by surprise that there was a big announcement made and the scores published,” she said.

Chapel said the 73 percent pass rate for those who took the test – a number that trailed only Mercer Island’s 74 percent – is a reflection of the test’s newness.

“Teachers aren’t as familiar with what material will be on the test,” she said. “Scores statewide tend to be lower for a new test.”

While that fact might fuel criticism that the statewide exams prompt teachers “to teach the WASL,” Chapel said that was not a bad thing.

“That would be a problem only if the test did not reflect the state standards, or if the state standards themselves were poorly designed. I don’t think either of those things are true,” she said.

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