Turnoff the TV and watch the WASLs soar!

Published on Thu, Sep 9, 2004 by ack Kintner

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Turn off the TV and watch the WASLs soar!

By Jack Kintner

“Turn off the TV!” said Blaine school district’s assessment director Deb Cummings in speaking of ways parents can help raise student test scores on the annual Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) test. The results from last year show dramatic improvement in the three tested areas of math, reading and writing for seventh graders, improvement in two of three categories for the high school sophomores but a decline in all areas for fourth grade students.
Cummings will discuss the results when she presents them to the Blaine school board at its regular meeting on September 27 at 7 p.m.
The results are expressed on a 100-point scale reflecting the percentage of students in a certain grade who meet a given performance standard. Seventh grade math scores went up the most, from 49 in 2003 to 80 this last spring, meaning that this past year 80 percent of the district’s seventh grade students met or exceeded the test standard in math as opposed to only 49 percent the year before.
Seventh grade scores went up from 52 to 69 in reading and from 56 to 75 in writing. Sophomores went up from 36 to 55 in math and 66 to 73 in reading, but stayed the same, 60, in writing. Fourth graders went down from 59 to 58 in math, down from 75 to 65 in reading and down to 43 from 48 in writing.

Recently instituted federal “No Child Left Behind” guidelines require that ten years from now all students must meet minimum standards in each discipline or the district may face penalties. The WASL is used to make the annual assessments because the test itself meets federal standards, although in coming years the test will be administered to more students, covering grades three through eight as well as sophomores.

The test is administered over a three-week “window” each spring, generally in half-day periods from Tuesday through Thursday each week. “It was designed by specialists in their fields, teachers, scientists and mathematicians,” Cummings said, “and was introduced in 1997. Some people said it was too hard but the legislative mandate and developmental appropriateness as measured by feedback from parents, students, teachers and community members found it to be about right, though some minor changes were made.”

Cummings also said that in that same time frame “we’ve raised the bar ourselves a whole grade level,” meaning that Blaine students now are doing work in the third grade that 10 years ago was done in the fourth. “It is controversial,” she said, “and still doesn’t accommodate some kinds of learning disabilities, and it’s a challenge for English Language Learning (ELL) students, but it’s designed to measure performance, how a student thinks rather than what he or she knows.”
As Blaine gets more diverse in its student population, Cummings continued, “it’s getting to be more challenging, but the results also show that we’re doing better work.”

Cummings pointed out that Blaine students have in general shown steady improvement since 1998, “especially if you look over time at their performance,” she said, “because taking three-year averages of scores more truly reflects the progress at each grade level. Looked at this way, the fourth grade performance scores go up in each category for each three-year block, as do those in the other two grades currently being measured,” Cummings said.

Federal standards for the percentage of students in a given grade who must meet the minimum standard increase every three years as well, and thus far Blaine has more than enough students meeting or exceeding the standard in all categories. Cummings said that the district’s responsibility is to make sure that all Blaine students meet or exceed the standard when this become required in 2014.

“Realistically, for that to happen will take teamwork, including students, parents, the school district and the community,” Cummings said, “the root goal being to help every kid grow academically, from where they are, to get better in these skill areas.”

She said for the district that means to know and understand academic expectations, to work collaboratively, “to teach the mind while taking care of the heart.”

For the community it means to support the schools financially and by volunteering. For parents “it means to provide a place for their children to do homework, to come to open houses and meet the teachers, to expect their kids to be at school on time with their homework done, to make school a priority. It would be great if they all read for at least 20 minutes a night. So, turn off the TV and pick up a book,” Cummings said, “and most important, make sure they’re here for next year’s testing period, April 18 through May 6. Your kid may be the next Einstein, but if she’s not here for the test she won’t meet the standard.”