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Islander students pass new state tests, but results mixed

After the first of the new state tests were given to students across Washington last spring, districts and parents have discovered mixed results, including the scores for students in Mercer Island schools.

The new Measurements of Student Progress (MSP) and High School Proficiency Exam (HSPE) replaced the older WASL test and featured shorter tests last April. Mercer Island students, while still above the state averages, saw varying results.

“Overall, we are pleased with the results of the new tests. Once again, our students and teachers rose to the challenge of transitioning to a new test and performed well as they have in the past,” said Michael Schiehser, the director of secondary learning support, in a press release. “We will be looking closely at the results for each grade level and working with our school principals to analyze the results.”

The district was well above the state average in each testing area, including the math test, which was based on the new state standards. However, despite being above the average Washington student, Mercer Island’s scores dropped in 10 areas (across all grades and tests), compared to last year’s scores.

All but two grades, sixth and eighth, had lower math scores compared to last year, but because of the new test and new state standards, the spring 2009 test basically created a new starting point, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). In most cases, the percentage of Mercer Island students who passed the 2009-2010 math test was only a few points lower than that of those who passed the 2008-2009 test.

On the reading test, which is highly similar to last year’s WASL exam, the state average of students who passed the test was between 60 and 78 percent for all grade levels. Mercer Island students ranged from the high 80s to 94.9 percent, passing. Even with the high number of students passing the test, students in third through sixth grade on Mercer Island all had lower scores than last year. In total, 114 students in those grades did not meet the standard on the MSP reading test.

The only place where scores went down for the writing exam, compared to last year, was in fourth grade. Last year 91.3 percent of Mercer Island fourth-graders, the youngest grade that this exam is given to, passed the test. In 2009-2010, 88.7 percent passed the test.

The biggest change came in the form of the science test for fifth-graders. While in all other grades the results remained within several percentage points, there was a 16.9 percent drop in the fifth-grade scores. Sixty-three percent of Island students who took the MSP science test passed, compared to 80 percent who passed in 2008-2009. The drop reflects a statewide trend. Last year, 44.9 percent of the students in the state passed science, while this year only 34 percent did.

Several school districts in the state have reported complaints that the new tests were too long, which could have affected students’ test scores. The state has already said it plans to shorten the tests for next year.

State Superintendent Randy Dorn said in a press release that while he considered the new tests to be a success, he believed that the mixed results at the state level showed the effect of recent funding cuts to education.

“Washington needs to recommit to education, and it’s not just me saying that — it’s the courts,” Dorn said in the press release. “We are facing a serious budget crisis in this state, but if we continue to cut education, the progress we’ve previously made will disappear. The state’s paramount constitutional duty is to fund education, and as long as I’m in this job, I’ll remind the governor and the legislature of that every day.”

Under the new state standards, students who are currently sophomores will be required to pass all tests on the HSPE in order to graduate. Dorn has already asked the state legislature to push back the requirements for math and science, but no changes have yet been made.

Mercer Island was one of just 83 districts in the state to meet the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goal, outlined by the No Child Left Behind Act. Individual schools and districts are required by the federal government to have a specific, continually growing number of students pass the state’s reading and math test each year. Under the act, all states are required to have a goal that all students in all schools must meet by 2014.

“I would recommend a complete overhaul of AYP,” Dorn said. “I’ve always said the intent of No Child Left Behind was good, but it’s a punitive system. Our state has high standards, and we do well on national testing, but by 2014 we will have every school in the state not making AYP. That’s completely unrealistic.”

Currently, 968 schools in the state and 212 districts are not meeting the AYP standards. Local districts such as Bellevue, Lake Washington and Northshore all failed to meet AYP, but Bainbridge, a comparable district to Mercer Island, passed.

Mixed results show improvements, declines in state scores

Students across Mercer Island and the state have had mixed results under the new state testing formats. Here’s a look at some of the scores:

2009-10 HSPE 10th reading

• Mercer Island: 94.9%

• State average: 78.8%

5th grade science

• 09-10 MSP: 63.1%

• 08-09 WASL: 80%

7th grade writing

• 09-10 MSP: 94.2%

• 08-09 WASL: 92.5%

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