Officials had predicted lower passage rates for the new Smarter Balanced tests, which are based on the Common Core learning standards. State Superintendent Randy Dorn called the results “very positive.”
Education officials said Monday they are pleased that about half of the state’s students passed a new, tougher set of statewide tests last spring, even though the passage rates are much lower than on the state’s old tests and the high number of students who opted out could affect federal funding in the future.
Slightly more than half of students in grades 3-8 scored proficient in English/language arts on the new tests, called Smarter Balanced, and slightly less than half in math, according to rest results released Monday.
That’s down from 55 to 80 percent on the old tests, but higher than the 30-40 percent officials predicted, based on field-test data from Washington and 20 other states.
The only big dip on the new exams was in 11th grade, where about half the students didn’t take the test, which depressed the passage rates because those students are given zeros. With all those failures, only a fourth of 11th-grade students passed the English/language arts and 14 percent were considered proficient in math.
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Officials said Monday that they think that Washington’s overall participation rate on the tests will fall below 95 percent of students, which could trigger the U.S. Department of Education to withhold funding.
“We suspect there will be some ramifications,” state Deputy Superintendent Gil Mendoza said. “We just don’t know what that’s going to be.”
Students’ performance on two state science tests — which haven’t changed since last year — took a dive, too. On the fifth-grade test, 63 percent of students passed, down 3 percentage points from last year. On the eighth-grade one, 60 percent passed, down from 67 percent.
State officials focused on the positive.
“The results are good, they are very positive,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn said Monday morning. “We are definitely moving in the right direction.”
Dorn also reiterated his view that passing the new tests shouldn’t be a graduation requirement. The new standards are more rigorous, he said, and the new test was not designed as an exit exam.
“Using this for high-school graduation doesn’t make sense to me,” he said.
Students in Seattle Public Schools, with the exception of 11th-graders, passed at higher rates than the state average, with 60 to 66 percent passing the reading test and 56 to 64 percent in math.
The 11th-grade scores were low because Seattle was one of the districts where a large number of juniors declined to take the tests which, for them, did not count for graduation. Only a tenth of the district’s juniors passed the English/language arts test and about 6? percent were proficient in math.
In King and Snohomish counties, the Mercer Island School District had the highest passage rates among fourth-graders, at 85 percent in English/language arts and 82 percent in math. Other districts with high passage rates included Lake Washington, Bellevue and Issaquah.
The new tests are based on the Common Core learning standards in math and English/language arts. Those standards have been adopted by more than 40 states, and are designed to prepare students for higher education or to enter the workforce. Though the learning standards have been controversial in a handful of states, there has been little opposition in Washington to date.
The tests were given statewide for the first time this year, starting in March. They are given in grades 3-8, and once in high school.
For the class of 2017 and beyond, the English/language arts exam will be required to graduate. About 74?percent of the high-school sophomores who took that test passed, so they won’t have to take the test as juniors.
And not all students will have to reach a passing score to get their diplomas. Earlier this month, the State Board of Education set a lower score that students will need to graduate, wanting to ensure a balance between more rigorous standards and fairness, wanting to give students enough time to reach the standards.
Robin Munson, assistant superintendent of assessment at the state’s education department, cautioned against comparing the results to past years.
“This is a baseline,” she said.
The Smarter Balanced exams, she said, are next-generation assessments, which are taken on a computer and give students easier or harder questions depending on how they answer each item.
One criticism of the tests is that students spend too much time taking them, rather than learning new material.
But Highline School District Superintendent Susan Enfield said last week that Highline students spent only about 20 out of 1,170 school hours taking tests. Those 20 hours, however, don’t include preparation time.
In addition to Washington, three other states, Missouri, West Virginia and Oregon, are reporting better-than-predicted scores, too, on Smarter Balanced exams, according to the Hechinger Report, an national online news site.
Most districts will be sending out score reports to parents in September.